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The headline figure of communication warrants issued in the UK, hide the fact that authorised surveillance has more than doubled since the Labour government came to power in 1997.

Figures published by the Interception of Communications Commissioner for England, Wales and Scotland (no figures have ever been made available on Northern Ireland) for 2001 appear to show that the number of interception warrants issued dropped from 1,900 in 2000 to 1,445 in 2001.

But this fails to take into account modifications of existing warrants, according to privacy activists Statewatch.

Taking changes to warrants, which previously required a new warrant, into account, shows the figure of 1,370 warrants issued in 1996 has soared to 3,427 in 2001 (the last year for which figures are publicly available).

That means the number of communications has doubled since New Labour came to power in 1997, Statewatch points out.

Statewatch argues these figures are an underestimate because they fail to into account the effects of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). It believes the increase in interception warrants can't be explained by anti-terrorism efforts alone and reflects the increased readiness of the police and security services to conduct communications surveillance.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, said: "The official figures are a travesty. Figures are provided which show that surveillance warrants have doubled since Labour came to power in 1997 - they are now more than double the figures in the Second World War. But no figures are given on other major changes brought in under RIPA 2000 that would show the real extent of interception." ®

External Links

Surveillance of communications goes through the roof (Statewatch's analysis)
Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner for 2001

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