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.”


  1. anon
    22nd August 2012

    Well done

  2. FedupBrit
    22nd August 2012

    Why has this been allowed to happen? Where is the justification and how can we STOP this? “They” have no right to intercept any comms from anyone. Hardly innocent until proven guitly when “they” try to catch you out form things your not eebn aware of.
    Typical british, fifty faced!

  3. Grant
    22nd August 2012

    It’s sickening to think such powers can be used for such minor infractions as TV licensing! Well done on the report and bringing this to the media.

  4. GennaX
    22nd August 2012

    Well done for this report. We often hear today’s wide-scale privacy infringement is the result of demands for greater protection after 9/11 by a public who didn’t care to know how this would be achieved. I never believed this was the will of the British public. Why on earth would we acquiese to behaviour so obviously dangerous to principles we hold dear – freedom of expression, right to privacy, open and transparent government etc?

  5. dg42gb
    22nd August 2012

    For some reason our government believes that where the USA goes we must follow, we must somehow stand against this action and attitude.

  6. billybloggs
    22nd August 2012

    A timely warning that liberties are being eroded, daily

  7. A Legacy of Suspicion…Big Brother Watch publishes report on a decade of council snooping « Melon Farmers Blog
    23rd August 2012

    […] article from See Report: A Legacy of Suspicion [pdf] from […]

  8. anon
    23rd August 2012

    @Morocco Mole If enforcers were really made accountable then there would be less of a problem because then we would not have councils and others snooping on our lives behind our backs with no good reason. If they are so accountable then why does the likes of the BBC refuse to provide details of the surveillance that they have carried out? And using the excuse that it might help people dodge paying for a TV licence is not an acceptable reason to keep such vital information under wraps – if they are watching us we have the right to know and to know the reason why.

    ‘Necessity and proportionality’ of their use must be considered’ yes it might say that somewhere but exactly how is this implemented ie who considers/decides what is necessary and in proportion and in comparison to what?

    • Morocco Mole
      23rd August 2012

      “snooping for no good reason”? Have you even read the Act? The necessity test means a legitimate reason MUST, i repeat MUST be given before authorisation. The BBC can legitimately withold information using the many exemptions allowed under the FOI Act, one of which is that the information is part of an ongoing criminal investigation e.g. Not paying our tv licence. Why does the fat man (eric pickles) think a lay magistrate is any more qualified to authorise a request than a legally trained local gov officer with first hand experience of the law and its implementation? You clowns want criminals caught but expect it to be done as if by magic, grow the hell up!

      • Anon
        23rd August 2012

        You come across here as rude with little understanding of the impact on innocent individuals of the increasing surveillance state that we are forced to put up with.

        • Morocco Mole
          24th August 2012

          I would rather be rude than ill informed. The fact you are unable to dispute anything i have posted suggests you are the latter.

          • anon
            24th August 2012

            The fact that one chooses not to debate this topic with you further does not mean one is ill informed. Nor should assumptions be made based on that choice regarding one’s ability to dispute something.

          • Tom
            29th October 2012

            I think you are both. See my comment above. You really think not paying for a TV licence warrants “criminal investigation”? God help us.

  9. C-sense
    23rd August 2012

    Please Mile Todd, shout louder.

  10. Jeremy Frost
    24th August 2012

    I wonder if Big Brother Watch would care to comment on Sir Paul Kennedy’s recently publicised 2011 report to Parliament? Sir Paul is Chief Commissioner of the Interception of Communication Commissioners Office (ex High Court judge & Lord Justice of Appeal), they heavily regulate the use of communications data across all afencies including local government.

    “I am aware that some sections of the media have been very critical of local authorities in the past and there are allegations that they often use the powers which are conferred upon them under RIPA inappropriately. The above case, although extremely regrettable, is the first and only instance that my inspectors have found in the 212 individual local authority inspections that have been conducted since 2006. Thousands of applications have been scrutinised since the start of the inspection regime and therefore the evidence that local authorities are frequently using their powers inappropriately is just not there.”

    • awakenedmind
      23rd September 2012

      What rubbish open your eyes – local authorities abuse their power all of the time – Bully controlling fascists the lot of em

    • Alastair McGowan
      24th February 2013

      Well that’s the Judicial Authorisation very well argued for. If it was only 212 then they could have very easily have submitted an application to a court. There would be very little opposition to RIPA and the CDB if it was the courts who determined access based only proportionality. Sir Paul has put the case better than we could ourselves!

  11. Me
    14th September 2012

    I wonder how many of these have been in connection with council tax discounts and as a result of legally false guidance provided to councils by the Audit Commission in its Audit Guides relating to these. This guidance falsely asserts that if an adult is on the full electoral register but not accounted for by the council tax department when the householder is in receipt of a 25% discount the taxpayer is simultaneously making two incompatible ‘claims’ at the same time. A relatively full legal briefing produced by Audit Commission Corporate Services Dept lawyers in 2009 demolished this assertion, pointing out that in law the council tax demand notice must not be issued on the basis that particular residence circumstances apply, and that ONLY IF THE NEW VOTER IS NOT DISREGARDED does the taxpayer have to tell the council tax department, because only then does entitlement to the discount cease.

    It is of course legal for students to register twice, once at their university residence (in almost all cases this is their sole or main residence) and once at the parental home, where they do not count as living (sole or main residence being the criterion) for council tax purposes.

    It is therefore false to allege that these people are making two incompatible claims at the same time, yet on this basis the Audit Commission expects councils to carry out investigations.

    True some people (but nobody, least of all the Audit Commission) has any idea how small a proportion, may register adults to vote who do affect entitlement and in situations when they ought not to be receiving a discount, but to invent false allegations about a whole bunch of people and expect councils to investigate them on the basis that they ‘might not be entitled’ to their discounts is unacceptable.

    Big Brother Watch ought to look carefully at the proposed data matching powers in the present draft Audit Bill. Once again, no clear definition of data matching is in the law, leaving the way wide open to the use of data mining and data analytics to highlight people as potential fraud suspects on the basis that they are in a high risk group, while simultaneously putting out legally misleading and prejudicial accounts of what the exercise is all about, some of it in secret on line documents which one has to go to an F of I tribunal to get hold of.

    Big Brother Watch ought to ensure that a clear and watertight definition of data matching goes into the Bill and Act, and not into some optional unenforceable code with no legal standing whatsoever. It ought to ensure that there is a criminal penalty for generating and sharing legally inaccurate information relating to identifiable individuals. Only then can RIPA powers be controlled properly.

  12. SuperSolly1
    27th October 2012

    In Britain, we delude ourselves that those with letters after their name are infallible and know best. I committed a minor indiscretion when sixteen and ten years on find myself not only fighting the libel and malicious gossip that was put down in court reports on me, but am being snooped upon under RIPA on the say so of a bent magistrate who is a very good friend of my high school adversary/bully. This is the truth behind the “big society”, which as far as I’m concerned is nothing but mob rule.

  13. Tom
    29th October 2012

    Nothing like the combination of public official and Labour party supporter to chill the blood. No powers?

    RIPA enables certain public bodies to demand that an ISP provide access to a customer’s communications in secret;
    It enables mass surveillance of communications in transit;
    It enables certain public bodies to demand ISPs fit equipment to facilitate surveillance;
    It enables certain public bodies to demand that someone hand over keys to protected information;
    It allows certain public bodies to monitor people’s Internet activities;
    It prevents the existence of interception warrants and any data collected with them from being revealed in court.

  14. Guest
    5th November 2012

    Go away Lie-bour shrill.

    • Andy Badger
      29th January 2013

      spot – on, another Liebour fascist

  15. Alastair McGowan
    24th February 2013

    ‘Judicial authorisation of surveillance sould be the norm’

    This seems to me to be the crux of the issue, and it is all about proportionality. Permitting organisations entitled by the State to authority, with the ability to access to our data and surveil our activities without some substance to a suspicion, is a Police State. We have allowed the relationship between Person and State to become imbalanced, perhaps because it is so tempting to use powerful newly developed data tools in order to control or because the State fears that people’s new found freedoms in the digital age threaten its authority.

    Either way, the bias is shifting too far in favour of State sanctioned power to invade private lives and private communications in order to maintain its authority in trivial matters. Judicial authorisation is necessary to invade privacy for high-risk terrorist investigations, thus it should absolutely be necessary for the most trivial of investigations where the proportionality is more at issue. There has to be a line beyond which breach of privacy (a serious insult by power against weakness) is not permitted by the State and organisations it sanctions, and this line should be determined by the severity of any suspected wrongdoing. The police have been held to this for centuries, so why not County Councils?

    If an organisation’s concerns are important enough to invade privacy then a court should make this decision.

  16. How to Search the Internet Anonymously : amSquared
    29th April 2013

    […] I was asked by a friend how could somebody search the internet anomalously, a good question I thought. Every server you visit and every ISP your data passes will make a make a note of what your doing. If you wish to say things the UK government (now or in the future) does not approve of you may wish to remain anonymous online. You may also be concerned with what your ISP knows about your health, sexual preferences, finances etc and in turn may pass on to the Government through The Communications Data Bill or RIPA. […]

  17. After ten years of RIPA it’s time for a comprehensive review of surveillance law | UK Independence Party In Essex
    14th May 2013

    […] latest report published today, ‘A legacy of surveillance‘, exposes how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has been used by both local and public […]