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Criminal Law Review tears strips off RIP Act

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The academic paper Criminal Law Review has laid into the widely criticised RIP Act, arguing that it "falls far short" of its intended aim.

In what is an unusual departure from dry objectivity, the article - called "BigBrother.gov.uk - State surveillance in the age of information and rights" - makes several damning conclusions over the legislation that was drafted to keep up with modern electronic communication.

We've been saying it for ages, but an independent review of the law also decides that the RIP Act allows for agencies to "snoop randomly and routinely" - something, it says, that may breach both the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.

The article speaks of "substantial defects" in RIPA. The removal of judges in the approval process for tapping because it is "inappropriate" in cases of national security and economic well-being, for example, is labelled "wholly spurious".

It is "disingenuous" to set up legislation that concerns itself with the minority of cases rather than the majority, the article argues. Paranoid, more like. Or authoritarian. The fact that people being investigated are never informed of it "decreases substantially the chances of abuse ever being uncovered". The criteria enabling government agencies to snoop on people are "unduly expansive".

No backup is given to privileged material - meaning information that is protected in law, like what is said in the Houses of Parliament or a contemporaneous write-up of a court case. The Act doesn't account for all relevant examples of interception - for example foreign intelligence agencies. It "potentially empowers an alarmingly large range of public agencies to snoop... and for a rambling array of reasons".

Definitions in the Act are described as "somewhat ambiguous". Safeguards are insufficient and inadequate. Assumptions over guilt are "unfair". And the concerns that existed before the Act existed are still there after RIP "or are even amplified".

The report also gives extensive coverage to others' criticisms and concerns over what the RIP Act may enable the government, police and intelligence agencies to get away with.

The report was actually in the February edition of the journal but being a somewhat specialised organ, we haven't heard of it until now. It is well worth a read, disturbing as it is. A spokeswoman for the publication was less than helpful and suggested readers may want to go to a library to pick it up. However, we've found that the Cyber-rights and cyber-liberties boys have been there before us and got permission to offer a pdf format of the article. It's here.

Enjoy. Or, rather, worry. ®

Related Link

Cyber-Rights' pdf version

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