Feeds

Top cop urges RIPA review in coded attack on snoop code

Less bureaucracy, more clarity, more bugging

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The government should "urgently initiate" a review of the Codes of Practice for police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), says Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Inspector of Constabulary in his review of UK policing. RIPA governs the security services' use of surveillance and interception of communications, but police activities in these areas are sometimes hampered by "excessive bureaucracy" and "over-interpretation of the relevant rules", Flanagan claims.

Flanagan doesn't exactly spell it out, but he appears to be sending coded signals that RIPA is forcing the police to fight crime with one arm tied behind their backs: "Whilst I am clear that the use of surveillance techniques is an area where this is a clear need for regulation and authorisation processes, I am concerned that in some instances excessive bureaucracy is created by a combination of misunderstanding and sometimes over-interpretation of the relevant rules. Often to the service's credit, this is driven by the best motives."

Got that? An op-ed piece from Shadow Home Secretary David Davis in the Telegraph gets down to specifics, possibly on behalf of concerned top cops: "We [i.e. the Tory party] are committed to a review of RIPA, the law regulating police surveillance. In too many cases, RIPA forms get in the way of ordinary policing. It should not take 13 hours to fill out the paperwork to authorise officers to watch a known burglar."

According to Flanagan a "large number" of officers and forces have raised the problem of RIPA with him. Although the dog-whistles of "excessive bureaucracy" and "over-interpretation" are significant, he doesn't exactly call for shackles to be loosened. He has, he says, had discussions with Surveillance Commissioner Sir Christopher Rose concerning "how best greater clarity and understanding can be brought about in this important area." So no changes, just "clarity and understanding", right?

Or perhaps just a few changes. He feels the Codes should be reviewed "with a view to delivering greater clarity and proportionality around the recording of investigatory powers, whilst still maintaining critically important public safeguards" (our emphasis). Bringing more understanding simply means making what already there better understood, while more proportionality means changing, i.e. loosening, the rules.

Flanagan adds that he believes that "the current legislative requirement that an applicant for an 'authority' and the authorising officer are from the same organisation is a barrier to inter-agency co-operation and indeed police cross-boundary co-operation." That is, he thinks it'd be better if different forces and agencies could sign off one another's snooping operations. "The forthcoming Green Paper should be used to consult on removal of this stipulation.

"Once initiated I see no reason why with determination and commitment from the interested parties involved such a review could not be conducted over a 3 month period," he says.

Surveillance has become a hotter issue recently through the bugging of Sadiq Khan MP and controversy over the high level of data interceptions. Tweaks to RIPA, meanwhile are present in the proposed Counter-terrorism Bill.

These include provisions for the Home Secretary to issue a certificate requiring an inquest to be held without a jury, thus allowing details of surveillance operations relevant to the case to be kept out of the public domain. The Institute of Race Relations, which flags the change here, notes that this is particularly relevant to case of Azelle Rodney, shot dead after a police surveillance operation in 2005. "After the CPS decision [not to prosecute]", says the IRR, "the family was told by the coroner that the full inquest could not be held because large portions of the police officers' statements had been crossed out under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000, which covers information obtained from covert surveillance devices such as telephone taps or bugs."

The proposed changes would therefore allow inquests to be conducted into Rodney's death and similar cases, but at the price of their being held in secret. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
Vodafone to buy 140 Phones 4u stores from stricken retailer
887 jobs 'preserved' in the process, says administrator PwC
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.