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Home Office snooping plans are almost unchanged
FOR IMMEDIATE USE: 15 September 2003
In June 2002 the Home Office backed down in the face of the outrage that greeted their totally disproportionate proposals for access to communications data (records of email senders and receivers, phone numbers called or web pages visited). Last week they gave the impression of a change of heart, yet closer examination of the detail of their proposals shows that their plans are almost entirely unchanged.
The Home Office have also been hinting at criminal penalties for misuse of communications data, extra scrutiny of the new bodies by the Interception Commissioner and a scheme to prevent authorities from continuing to use their existing powers under so-called "legacy legislation". The Draft Regulations laid before Parliament last Friday contain none of these measures.
The new Regulations do contain significantly more detail than has ever been provided before. Previously, for example, the whole of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was listed and now it is made clear that only three investigative branches are to be authorised. They also exclude access to mobile phone location data for some of these organisations.
However, careful analysis of the schedules of agencies that are to be authorised shows that only one of the 24 categories of bodies that were to be given access to data in 2002 has been dropped from the Government's list. That body was the Department of Work and Pensions, which has its own legacy legislation to allow access to Benefit Fraud investigators. In fact, far from the Home Office restricting the bodies that might access data, three new ones (the Charity Commission, the Serious Fraud Office and the Gaming Board for Great Britain) have been added to the list.
Ian Brown, Director of FIPR, commented: "The Home Office have failed to understand that it is unacceptable for government officials to authorise themselves to snoop on who we have been calling or which websites we have been looking at. Even where crimes are serious enough for this to be justified, it is vital to have a proper oversight routine and criminal penalties for those who misuse their powers."
He continued: "They are resurrecting, and indeed extending, the same proposals that were rejected last year. The 'spin' is that this is a new approach, but the Home Office have delivered none of the safeguards they have been hinting at. Underneath the paint job is the same ugly scheme."
Contact for enquiries:
Ian Brown Director Foundation for Information Policy Research firstname.lastname@example.org 07970 164 526 (from outside the UK: +44 7970 164 526)
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