The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was passed in 2000 to regulate the way that public bodies such as the police and the security services carry out surveillance. Originally only a handful of authorities were able to use RIPA but its scope has been expanded enormously and now there are at least 792 organisations using it, including hundreds of local councils.
This has generated dozens of complaints about anti-terrorism legislation being used to spy on, for example, a nursery suspected of selling pot plants unlawfully, a family suspected of lying about living in a school catchment area, and paperboys suspected of not having the right paperwork.
Now those campaigning against the abuse of RIPA have got a new ally — Lady Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5. In a speech in the House of Lords yesterday, she said she was “astonished” when she found out how many organisations were getting access to RIPA powers.
When RIPA was introduced … I assumed wrongly that the activities authorised by that legislation would be confined to the intelligence and security agencies, the police, and Customs and Excise. The legislation was drafted at the urgent request of the intelligence and security community so that its techniques would be compatible with the Human Rights Act when it came into force in 2000. I can remember being astonished to read that organisations such as the Milk Marketing Board, and whatever the equivalent is for eggs, would have access to some of the techniques. On the principle governing the use of intrusive techniques which invade people’s privacy, there should be clarity in the law as to what is permitted and they should be used only in cases where the threat justified them and their use was proportionate.
Apparently she also raised a laugh when she told peers how to pronounce the acronym for the act. “Those of us in the intelligence community call it ‘Ripper’, as in ‘Jack the’, and not ‘Reaper’, as in ‘the Grim’,” she said.