RIPA Code of Practice goes out to public consultation

Already a year late

The Home Office finally put the Code of Practice for the RIP Act out to public consultation yesterday - more than a year after the Act received Royal Assent.

The Act is extremely controversial because it gives the police and secret services unprecedented access to the personal communications of British citizens. It has also come under fire for not complying with either the Data Protection Act or the Human Rights Act. Worse, the legislation is ambiguous in parts and over-reaching in others.

For these reasons, it has been widely accepted that a Code of Practice is essential if the Act is to be implemented as originally intentioned and the police are to avoid accusations of abusing civil rights. This is translated as "enhanced procedures" by the Home Office.

However, the code has been delayed several times due to the complexity of the job and the political storm surrounding it.

The press release says: "The draft Code of Practice on Accessing Communications Data will govern the conduct of law enforcement and public bodies when obtaining information relating to the use of postal or telecommunication services, for example telephone billing information."

It states examples of the "specific" purposes that must be met before the police are entitled to spy on people: in the interests of national security; for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder; in the interests of public safety.

The new Home Office minister in charge, Bob Ainsworth - replacing Charles Clarke who is now in the Cabinet as minister without portfolio - re-iterated the reasons for having the Act, selling the public consultation as evidence that the government is listening to people's concerns.

"As we implement the Act's provisions, we are working with communication services providers to ensure that they are enacted in partnership with them. Today's consultation reiterates our commitment to consult in this important area. We welcome comments on all aspects of this draft code from industry, law enforcement agencies and anyone else who has a view on its implementation."

The consultation period ends on 2 November, after which the Home Office promises to summarise people's points on its Web site. In the meantime, everything you want to know should be here. ®

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