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UK wiretap watchdog wants MPs tapped

Report casts spotlight on surveillance Britain

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Official figures have revealed that UK law enforcement agencies and other government agencies made 439,000 requests to tap telephones and email addresses in a 15 month period between 2005 and 2006.

A report from the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the UK surveillance watchdog, reports that 4,000 "errors" were made over the report period. Most concerned less serious slip-ups involving lists of telephone calls and individual email addresses, but 67 involved errors that led to the direct interception of communications, The Times reports.

These errors are "unacceptably high", according to Sir Swinton Thomas, the author of the report.

Alongside intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) and police forces, local authorities and bodies such as the Financial Services Authority have the authority to request wiretaps. The 795 organisations authorised to tap communications made 439,000 requests. Interception warrants, where granted, normally run for three months or six months, in the case of investigations involving terrorism.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner's report is the first time the extent of state surveillance activities in the UK has been revealed. The report says the interception of communications played a crucial role in the investigation of the 7 July suicide bombing attack on London's transport system.

Despite his criticism of the accuracy of requests, Sir Swinton wants the prohibition against tapping the communication of MPs and peers to be lifted. The block against interception of communication against parliamentarians has existed for 40 years since MI5 agents carried out illegal surveillance of members of Harold Wilson's Labour government.

Ministers had failed to give a good reason why politicians should be treated any differently from other citizens, Sir Swinton argues. ®

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