Tag Archives: Keith Vaz MP

“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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‘Grave terrorist threat needs urgent solutions’ states UK Home Affairs Select Committee

In its latest report on counter-terrorism, the UK Home Affairs Select Committee has made a series of strong statements urging the Government to take immediate action.

Focusing on foreign fighters, the Committee states that the Government’s response must encompass dissuading and preventing those who wish to go to fight from going, helping countries who are key to intercepting those entering Syria and ensuring those who return do not present a danger to the UK.

There should be engagement with communities through peer-led schemes to prevent radicalisation, such as the Abdullah X programme.

The Committee recommends that the Government implements a programme (similar to Channel) for everyone returning to Britain where there is evidence that they have fought in Syria.

UK response to the terrorist threat

There should be increased oversight of the vital power to withdraw passports, and the Committee also suggests that the power to make individuals stateless ought not to be employed while the individual is in the UK.

The responsibility for counter-terrorism policing should be moved from the Metropolitan Police Service to the National Crime Agency.

Keith Vaz MP: chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee

Keith Vaz MP: chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee

All police forces should ensure that local shopping centres have received the British Council of Shopping Centres guidance and put in place and tested a Response Plan.

Oversight of the security and intelligence agencies

The Committee raises concern over the weak nature of the oversight system which has an impact upon the credibility of the agencies accountability, and to the credibility of Parliament itself.

The Commissioners who scrutinise the intelligence services should be full time and properly resourced.
The scrutiny of the work of the security and intelligence agencies should be not the exclusive preserve of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The Commons membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee should be elected.

The chairman, who should always be a member of the Commons, ought to be subject to election of the whole House and should always be a member of the largest opposition party.

International emergency terrorist platform and capacity building

The UK should lead in the establishment of an international terrorism platform, using existing resources and knowledge at Interpol, which will allow nations access to advice, intelligence and expertise in dealing with terrorist threats.

Overseas Development Aid money could be used to increase resource for capacity building abroad.

Speaking about the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report, the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP (the Committee’s chairman) stated: “Recent events involving Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda show that the terrorist threat to the UK is as grave as at any point in the past thirteen years. The international community must act as one to tackle this global problem. Interpol has the resources and experience to build a platform and the UK must take the lead in bringing others to the table. However, ensuring public safety cannot be the sole purview of the counter-terrorism command and the security service. It is a responsibility in which all UK citizens and companies take a share.”

Vaz continued: “Stopping British men and women going to become foreign fighters, in Syria and other theatres of conflict, and engaging with them when they return is vital to avoid endangering the security of the UK for many years to come. Whether in classrooms, local community centres or through the global reach of the Internet and social media, a clear message needs to be sent to those at risk. Fighting in Syria is not the answer and without the Government helping peer-led projects to tackle this problem many more may be lost to radicalisation.”

Continuing this them, the MP added: “The current system of oversight is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley, not the 21st Century reality of the security and intelligence services. The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny. It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in Parliament.”

In conclusion, Vaz said: “The Intelligence and Security Committee should be given a democratic mandate in the same way as other Select Committees. We will then be able to robustly defend our methods of scrutiny and better serve those who protect us and the public.”

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