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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Snoopers 'R' us?

This morning's Telegraph reports that Councils, police and other public bodies are demanding access to people's private telephone and email records at a rate of once a minute.

They say that public authorities asked for confidential communications data on more than 525,000 occasions last year including a 13 per cent increase in requests by town halls. They add that there were also errors in hundreds of applications leading to wrong phone numbers, emails or innocent people being monitored, according to the surveillance watchdog:

Sir Paul Kennedy, the interception of communications commissioner, also warned children and other members of the public could be at risk because of "very serious weaknesses and failing" in the way communications in prisons are monitored.

He said flaws or attempts to monitor too much could place the public, as well as other prisoners and staff, in harm's way.

The figures will fuel concerns over the use of interception powers by some public bodies under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which are mainly aimed at tackling terrorism and serious crime.

The Act gives authorities – including councils, the police and intelligence agencies – the power to request access to confidential communications data, including lists of telephone numbers dialled and email addresses to which messages have been sent but not their content.

No doubt there are times when adopting these powers are justifed but the exponential growth in their use is worrying and indicates that there needs to be more effective checks and balances in place as well as greater transparency and accountability. Let us hope that the UK Government will oblige.
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