Calling time on the Grim RIPA

Our latest report, ‘A legacy of surveillance‘, looks at how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has been used by both local and public authorities in recent years.

A decade on and more than three million authorisations later, our research found how there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how and why the powers are being used – and a clear need for the Coalition to go further to protect civil liberties.

While the Coalition has changed the law to require local authorities to seek a magistrates warrant for RIPA surveillance and only to use it for serious crimes, this is not the end of the matter.

The issue is of course that councils and public authorities don’t have to say what they are up to, why, how often and even whether they have convicted anyone as a result. It takes groups like Big Brother Watch to dig up the figures – the next step is for the Government to take action and make this data publicly reported.

Secondly, the Coalition has started down the right path in limiting how councils can use these powers. Now it’s time for a full and frank review of how RIPA functions – before the landscape is complicated even further with any more surveillance legislation that fiddles with the law in an effort to patch up existing failings.

Finally, judicial authorisation of surveillance should be the norm, not the exception.

These policies would help further restore and protect British liberties while ensuring that we do not exacerbate an already unsure situation with equally vague legislation. Given the Home Office has already promised a two year review of how powers of entry are used, now is a unique opportunity to have a serious debate about how we shape the future of privacy and security in Britain.

The Bar Council has also come out in support of this objective. Michael Todd QC, Chairman of Bar, said: “For some time now, the Bar Council has called for the Government to recognise the importance of, and have respect for, private communications between lawyers and their clients. So far, the Government has demonstrated that it would rather take advantage of a legislative drafting flaw than protect a fundamental human right.

“It is inconceivable that the Government should be contemplating what has been described as a ‘snoopers’ charter’, granting authorities greater surveillance powers in the face of wide-ranging opposition, when the current regime is wide open to abuse.”