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Home / Privacy News / Web snooping bill could be used to catch minor crimes

Web snooping bill could be used to catch minor crimes

Sir Paul Kennedy, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, has told MPs that the powers could be justified when investigating incidents such as fly tipping and that setting a “crime threshold” would be difficult.

The Government has proposed new measures that will force internet and phone companies to record and store all activities of their customers for a year.

Ministers have said the move is only to allow the police, the security services and tax officials to tackle terrorism and serious crime.

The proposals will stop local authorities and hundreds of other agencies from accessing such records.

But Sir Paul, whose job is to check such powers are being used appropriately, said the powers should not be limited to law enforcement agencies, and said even “less serious” offences can have very serious impacts on the lives of the victims.

He told MPs: “It raises some (issues) particularly in relation to local authorities. They have a statutory duty to investigate fly tipping.

“It is not a very important crime but if it affects you directly it is very important to you.”

Measures in the draft communications data bill will require communication providers such as phone and internet companies to store details of every activity of their customers for a year.

The records stored will include emails, website visits, phone calls and activity on social networking sites, but not the content of any messages or calls.

The Government argues the move is necessary to allow the police and security agencies to keep up with modern communications and access data of serious offenders.

But civil liberty groups argue it is a huge intrusion in to people’s private lives.

A joint parliamentary committee is currently examining the bill, and Sir Paul gave evidence before it last week.

In additional written evidence, he said: “The powers should not be limited to just police and intelligence agencies.

“Parliament has delegated statutory enforcement functions to a number of other public authorities and as a result they have a clear statutory duty to investigate a number of criminal offences, some of which are their sole responsibility.

“Often the criminal offences that these public authorities investigate are regarded as very important at a local level and provide the public with reassurance and protection.”

He highlighted examples such as “criminals who persistently rip off consumers, cheat the taxpayer, deal in counterfeit goods, and prey on the elderly and vulnerable”.

He said requests from such authorities make up just over one per cent of the total adding: “but this does not mean that such public authorities should not be able to use the powers when they can demonstrate necessity and proportionality”.

He said: “It would be difficult to set a crime threshold for the use of communications data for a number of reasons, even by reference to the gravity of the offence.

“Previous statutory attempts to define serious crime have not produced satisfactory results and some “less serious” offences can have very serious impacts on the victims.

“It is therefore much better to leave it to the authorising officer to decide, in relation to the facts of each individual investigation, whether the application to use communications data to detect it is necessary and proportionate.”

Dominic Raab, the Tory MP, said: “This kind of intrusive surveillance is already shifting too far away from targeting terrorists and serious criminals towards indiscriminately monitoring ordinary citizens.”

Last week, Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said the new powers will only stop “incompetent criminals and accidental anarchists” and not the “really scary people”.

He said terrorists and organised criminals would simply find a way around the tactic and not use established providers or encrypt their messages.

Mr Graham also launched a thinly veiled criticism of the Home Office that he was not being given either the powers or resources to regulate any future system.

Source

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