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FIPR Press Release - FIPR Appalled by Huge Increase in Government Snooping

FOR IMMEDIATE USE : 10 June 2002

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act is to be amended before it even comes into force to dramatically increase the number of official bodies that can access personal details of phone calls and emails. The Act was hugely controversial when it went through Parliament in 2000, with defeats for the Government in the Lords and significant changes being made to prevent its complete rejection.

Now the powers that were originally only given to the police, customs, secret services and the taxman are to be made available to a huge range of Government departments, local authorities, the NHS and even to Consignia (the Post Office).

Ian Brown, Director of FIPR commented, "I am appalled at this huge increase in the scope of Government snooping. Two years ago, we were deeply concerned that these powers were to be given to the police without any judicial oversight. Now they're handing them out to a practically endless queue of bureaucrats in Whitehall and Town Halls."

The powers contained in RIP Part I Chapter II allow notices to be served on telephone companies, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or postal operators to obtain information such as the name and address of users, phone numbers called, source and destination of emails, the identity of web sites visited or mobile phone location data accurate to a hundred metres or less.

However, this part of the Act has proved to be complex to implement. A draft Code of Practice only became available for consultation in Autumn 2001 and is still being rewritten to reflect the poor reception it received. The Government is now suggesting that this process will be completed by August, but this is only the latest date in a long series of missed deadlines.

Ian Brown remarked, "The difficulty that the Government has encountered in getting the right processes in place for the police should make us ultra-cautious in extending these powers to such a wide range of bodies. We don't think that there's been enough resources put into the oversight arrangements for the current proposals, let alone what will be needed for this huge extension. In practice, these bodies are going to obtain this personal data on anyone they wish, without any effective way of checking what they're doing".

He continued, "which websites we visit or where we travel with a mobile phone in our pocket reveals a great deal of personal information. Accessing this information needs to be made more difficult, not opened up to this huge range of new enquirers. I look at this list and wonder not at who they've added, but if I can possibly think of anyone they've left out."

Contacts for enquiries:

Ian Brown Director Foundation for Information Policy Research ian@fipr.org 07970 164526   William Heath Vice-Chairman, FIPR william.heath@kablenet.com

Notes for editors

  1. The Foundation for Information Policy Research (www.fipr.org), is a non-profit think-tank for Internet and Information Technology policy, governed by an independent Board of Trustees with an Advisory Council of experts.
  2. The order to be debated by Parliament is at:

    http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si/si2002/draft/20022322.htm (local copy here)

    It is expected to be debated by the Commons on 18th June and the Lords some time after.
  3. A RIP s22 notice will reveal details held by a communications service provider such as...
    • name and address
    • service usage details
    • details of who you have been calling
    • details of who has called you
    • mobile phone location info
    • source and destination of email
    • usage of web sites (but not pages within such sites)
  4. The current list of bodies allowed to serve RIP s22 notices is:
    • Police (all the forces, MOD police, NCS, NCIS)
    • Secret Intelligence Agencies (MI5, MI6, GCHQ)
    • Customs and Excise
    • Inland Revenue
  5. The order extends the list of public authorities that can issue RIP s22 notices (ie to access traffic data from telcos and ISPs)... ...to add the following central Government departments:
    1. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
    2. The Department of Health.
    3. The Home Office.
    4. The Department of Trade and Industry.
    5. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
    6. The Department for Work and Pensions.
    7. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland.
    AND pretty much any local authority:
    1. Any local authority within the meaning of section 1 of the Local Government Act 1999.
    2. Any fire authority as defined in the Local Government (Best Value) Performance Indicators Order 2000
    3. A council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.
    4. A district council within the meaning of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972.
    AND NHS bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland:
    1. The Common Services Agency of the Scottish Health Service.
    2. The Northern Ireland Central Services Agency for the Health and Social Services.
    AND some other bodies:
    1. The Environment Agency.
    2. The Financial Services Authority.
    3. The Food Standards Agency.
    4. The Health and Safety Executive.
    5. The Information Commissioner.
    6. The Office of Fair Trading.
    7. The Postal Services Commission.
    8. The Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency.
    9. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
    10. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary.
    11. A Universal Service Provider within the meaning of the Postal Services Act 2000
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