Tag Archives: Big Brother Watch

“RIPA not fit for purpose” states Home Affairs Select Committee

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 – the legislation governing communications data – “needs a complete overhaul”. That’s the conclusion of the latest Home Affairs Select Committee report.

The Home Affairs Select Committee acknowledges the operational need for secrecy both during investigations and afterwards (so that investigative techniques more broadly are not disclosed). However, there has to be proper oversight and scrutiny. The Committee recommends that the Home Office uses the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies discharge their RIPA powers properly.

The Committee noted that the Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, launched an inquiry in October 2014 to determine whether the acquisition of communications data had been used to identify journalistic sources. He wrote to all chief constables and directed them, under Section 58(1) of RIPA, to provide him with details of all investigations that had used powers under Chapter 2 of Part I of RIPA to acquire communications data to identify journalistic sources. His office will undertake a full inquiry into these matters, report the findings to the Prime Minister and then publish them.

The Committee believes all local police forces must communicate openly and efficiently with the Commissioner regarding the information they give him about their work. The Committee considers that IOCCO should be given further resources to carry out its job in an effective and timely manner, particularly in respect of its inquiry into the use of RIPA powers regarding journalistic sources.

Keith Vaz MP: chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee

Keith Vaz MP: chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee

Updated Code of Practice

The Communications Data Code of Practice was drafted eight years ago and, unlike the interception or the Surveillance Code which were recently updated, contains no advice on dealing with professions that handle privileged information nor any guidelines on the use of confidential helplines.

The Committee notes Sir Paul’s recommendation to the Home Office concerning the need for improvements to the statistical requirements in the RIPA Code of Practice. It’s vital that the statistical requirements are enhanced so that the public can be better informed about the use which public authorities make of communications data.

On 15 October this year, the Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the Home Office was conducting a review of the use of RIPA in response to concerns over its deployment to access journalists’ phone records. The Government has stated that a revised Code will be published in draft form “this autumn” and will be subject to public consultation. With only 26 days until the New Year, the Home Affairs Select Committee has stated that the Home Office has failed to meet its own timetable.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “RIPA is not fit for purpose. We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation. Using RIPA to access the telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistle-blowers from coming forward.”

Vaz continued: “The recording of information under RIPA is lamentably poor. The whole process appears secretive and disorganised without proper monitoring of what is being destroyed and what’s being retained. We’re concerned that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of RIPA allows investigating authorities to engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy with inadequate oversight.”

Home Secretary Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May

In conclusion, Vaz explained: “The Home Office has failed to publish its review within its own timetable, and not for the first time. It should hold a full public consultation on an amended RIPA Code of Practice. Any updated advice should contain special provisions for dealing with privileged information such as journalistic material and material subject to legal privilege. It’s vital that the Home Office uses the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies discharge their RIPA powers properly.”

Response from Liberty and Big Brother Watch

Responding to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on RIPA, Isabella Sankey – director of policy for Liberty – said: “The secret use of RIPA to investigate journalists’ sources will chill anyone who values free speech and a free press, but what’s really disturbing is that the abuses detailed in this damning report are the tip of the iceberg. Records about your phone calls and e-mails build up an incredibly detailed data picture of every single one of us – who we are, where we go and what we do.”

Sankey added: “We urgently need safeguards to stop this valuable data being accessed without judicial warrant. What we’re getting is the Government handing itself even more powers to snoop in the form of the ill-targeted Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.”

Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “When a senior Parliamentary Committee says that the current legislation is not fit for purpose then this simply cannot be ignored. It’s now abundantly clear that the law is out of date, the oversight is weak and the recording of how the powers enshrined in RIPA are used is patchy at best. The public is right to expect better.”

Emma Carr: leader of Big Brother Watch

Emma Carr: director of Big Brother Watch

Carr continued: “The conclusion of the Committee that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of these powers is permitting investigations that are deemed ‘unacceptable in a democracy’ should make the defenders of these powers sit up and take notice. At present, the inadequacy and inconsistency of the records being kept by public authorities regarding the use of these powers is woefully inadequate. New laws would not be required to correct this.”

Big Brother Watch’s director said: “While this report concentrates on targeting journalists, it’s important to remember that thousands of members of the public have also been snooped on, with little opportunity for redress. If the police fail to use the existing powers correctly then it’s completely irresponsible for the Home Office to be planning on increasing those powers. Failure by the Government to address these serious points means we can already know that there will be many more innocent members of the public who will be wrongly spied on and accused. This is intolerable.”

Watch a video of Emma Carr being interviewed on this issue by BBC News:

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Office of Surveillance Commissioners issues warning over social media snooping

The Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC), led by Chief Surveillance Commissioner The Rt Hon Sir Christopher Rose, has published its Annual Report for 2013-2014. Emma Carr (director of Big Brother Watch) highlights some of the main points.

*Intrusive surveillance authorisations have increased from 362 to 392
*Directed surveillance by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) has increased from 9,515 to 9,664
*Directed surveillance by public authorities (PAs) has decreased from 5,827 to 4,412
*Active LEA covert human intelligence sources: 4,377 were authorised, 3,025 remain authorised
*Active covert human intelligence sources (non-LEA): 53 were authorised

The Commissioner notes that the information included in the 2013-2014 Annual Report is for 100% of LEAs and 96.6% of all other PAs. However, Sir Christopher Rose notes: “I am once again slightly disappointed that a few public authorities appear to treat my request for statistical returns as an option” and that: “I have therefore decided that, as from next year, those public authorities which have failed to respond within the set deadline will be named in my Annual Report.”

The Commissioner also raises the fact that there have been a number of occasions where senior officers have failed to meet with inspectors. These comments would therefore indicate that among some LEA and PAs there’s a potential problem of the OSC not being taken seriously.

The Commissioner also notes that, since the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 was introduced, there has been a “downward trend” in the number of applications made and authorisations granted which “may or may not be attributable to this enactment.”

Emma Carr: director of Big Brother Watch

Emma Carr: director of Big Brother Watch

The Commissioner raises concerns about the lack of a common approach from councils towards the authorising process now that it’s controlled by Magistrates. He goes on to warn that “the knowledge and understanding of RIPA among magistrates and their staff varies widely.” The Commissioner notes that there’s certainly a need for “adequate training or magistrates” and their colleagues.

Worryingly, the Commissioner cites two examples of inappropriate authorisations: one having granted approval for activity retrospectively, and another having signed a formal notice despite it having been erroneously completed by the applicant with details of a different case altogether.

Social media and covert investigations

One of the most interesting sections of the report relates to the use of social media for covert investigations by PAs. The Commissioner states that he “strongly” advises all public bodies to put in place proper policies designed to deal with social media investigations due to a lack of demonstrable understanding of the law from some workers involved in investigations.

The report states that: “In cash-strapped public authorities, it might be tempting to conduct online investigations from a desktop as this saves time and money and often provides far more detail about someone’s personal lifestyle, employment and associates, etc, but just because one can does not mean one should.”

While long overdue, the Commissioner is absolutely right to acknowledge that many PAs around the country may well be covertly gathering intelligence from social media sites on an illegal basis.

RIPA 2000 was created while Google was still in its infancy and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. It would therefore be ridiculous to expect that the legislation would allow the use of the Internet to proportionately investigate crimes while ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect the public’s privacy.

A far more open discussion about what data should be monitored – as well as whether the legal framework is truly fit for the digital age – is now required.

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Emma Carr appointed director at Big Brother Watch

Just months before Big Brother Watch celebrates its fifth anniversary, the civil liberties organisation has unveiled a new leadership team following the departure of director Nick Pickles, who left the campaign in May this year to join Twitter as the social media site’s public policy manager for the UK.

Emma Carr takes up the role of director with immediate effect while Renate Samson becomes the organisation’s CEO (a newly-created role).

Carr joined Big Brother Watch in February 2012 as deputy director and became acting director in May this year upon Pickles’ departure. Over the course of the last two and a half years, Carr has worked hard to challenge policies that threaten civil liberties, privacy and freedom.

Carr has made an active contribution to the organisation’s research, frequently appearing on national and international television and radio programmes, and actively spreading the ethos of the organisation at conferences around the world.

Emma Carr: the new director of Big Brother Watch

Emma Carr: the new director of Big Brother Watch

As the director of Big Brother Watch, Carr will be overseeing research, media and campaigns.

In the new role of CEO, Renate Samson will oversee Big Brother Watch operations, parliamentary outreach and new projects. The first of these will be a new educational outreach programme designed specifically for those in higher education. Further details about this project will be announced in due course.

Samson has spent the past four years as Chief of Staff to David Davis MP, working on every major civil liberties debate during this Parliament. Samson joins Big Brother Watch with a wealth of contacts and knowledge which will be vital as the campaign expands over the coming years.

Samson will begin her new role later this year after the party conference season has concluded.

In addition, Big Brother Watch researcher Daniel Nesbitt will also be taking on the role of research director. Nesbitt has been with the campaign for 18 months, during which time he has produced high calibre research and appeared as a spokesperson for the organisation in the media.

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