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UK gov issued 250k snoop licences in nine months

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The regulator for Britain's snoopers has released a report covering the last nine months of 2006, painting a panglossian picture of a period which saw a quarter of a million intercepts.

From 11 April to 31 December 2006 there were 253,557 requests for communication data. In the same period there were only 1,088 errors - mostly due to incorrectly-written phone numbers.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy said he saw no reason to change the current law, and indeed had only met one person while doing his job who has a different opinion. There has been some debate as to if intercepted information should be permitted as court evidence.

Kennedy makes visits to the Security Services, Secret Intelligence Service, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Met, HMRC, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Home Office and Scottish Office among other agencies. He gets a complete list of all requests made by the relevant agency, then picks a random selection of warrants to check they have been properly filed.

He has also informally visited 11 communication and internet service providers. He said ISPs welcome these visits, and that "those... who work in this field have great enthusiasm in their work. They recognise the importance of it in the public interest, and the necessity of doing all their work accurately and efficiently."

Local authorities vary widely in their use of communications data. Some 474 local authorities can get phone tap and other comms data, but in the period only 122 used that power. Those 122 authorities made 1,694 requests to identify rogue traders, fly tippers and housing benefit cheats.

Kennedy said he was impressed by the "striking successes" helped by interception. Kennedy said: "It has played a key role in numerous operations including, for example, the prevention of murders, tackling large-scale drug importations, evasion of Excise duty, people smuggling, gathering intelligence both within the United Kingdom and overseas on terrorist and various extremist organisations, confiscation of firearms, serious violent crime and terrorism."

Bootnote: To clarify - the figure of 253, 557 is requests for communications data - i.e who you phoned, when they phoned you and how long they phoned you for, as defined by RIPA. It could also include subscriber information and associated addresses. It is not an actual phone tap - a recording of your conversation - or "intercept product".®

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