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Powers of RIPA legislation abused

Ex-Chief of MI5 'astonished'

by Michael Smith

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was passed in 2000 to regulate the way in which public bodies such as the police and the security services carry out surveillance.

To begin with originally only a small handful of authorities were able to use RIPA but its scope has, for some reason, 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 in the person Lady Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5. In a speech in the House of Lords recently, she said she was "astonished" when she found out how many organisations were getting access to RIPA powers.

Those that nowadays, more or less willy-nilly seem to be granted the right to carry our surveillance for this or that reason, should never, so it seems as far as the Security Services are and were concerned, be given those powers and rightly so.

While there may be reasons in fact for councils and others to, at times,m be granted powers under RIPA no council, per se, needs to carry our covert surveillance of dustbins for instance as to what people put into them. The same is true in respect to other uses that RIPA has been used for.

When RIPA was introduced the activities authorised by that legislation were meant 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.

Nowadays, however, for reasons unfathomable, every authority of whatever kind, from local councils and trading standards and that latter one can still be understood over the Milk Marketing Board equivalent and the one responsible for eggs and whatever else, aside from police, security services and HMRC, that is to say Customs and Excise, are given such covert surveillance powers.

Britain is the fast becoming, if it is not already, an all-pervasive surveillance society and British subjects are the most spied upon people on this planet, ahead even, so it would appear to citizens of Russian and even of Cuba.

On the principle governing the use of intrusive techniques which invade people's privacy, there must be total clarity in the law as to what is permitted and they should be used only in cases where the threat justifies them and their use is proportionate.

Presently, however, it would appear to be neither and as far as a great many people who are in the know amongst the general public are concerned this is very disconcerting and it is creating resentment amongst the people.

However, it seems that the current Labor administration in the United Kingdom could care less as to what the public thinks really. They have a majority in the House and hence do not care one iota about the people.

How can we expect to combat terrorism on our shores when we alienate the general law-abiding public who should be the eyes and ears of the authorities by using spy techniques and anti-terror legislation against them who have done nothing wrong.

The idea of the DNA and fingerprint database and the idea of monitoring all email and Internet traffic of every subject of Her Britannic Majesty is not going to bring the people onto the side of the government. Rather the opposite.

People who work in the field of security, I am sure, can see that but those that try to lord it over the people, whether central or local government do not care, it would seem. Councils up and down the country use RIPA powers against people that may or may not put the wrong stuff into their dustbins; who may put their dustbins out at the wrong day, and such like. As far as I, and Lady Manningham-Buller, see this is a total misuse of the powers of the act. Time some reigning on was done here.

M Smith (Veshengro), December 2008
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