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Government begins RIPA review

Peeking at snooping laws

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The Government will review the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), the law that governs state tapping of phone, email and internet use. The law will be looked at as part of a wider review of counter-terrorism laws.

Civil liberties campaigners criticised several anti-terrorism laws introduced by the last Labour Government as being restrictive of individual freedoms. The current Conservative and Liberal Democrat coaltion Government will review those laws, claiming its aim is to restore some lost rights.

"The review will look at what counter-terrorism powers and measures could be rolled back in order to restore the balance of civil liberties and counter-terrorism powers," said a Home Office statement on the review.

"National security is the first duty of government but we are also committed to reversing the substantial erosion of civil liberties," said Home Secretary Theresa May. "I want a counter-terrorism regime that is proportionate, focused and transparent. We must ensure that in protecting public safety, the powers which we need to deal with terrorism are in keeping with Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness."

RIPA powers to monitor citizens' activities could be used not just by police and state security services but also by local authorities to monitor compliance with various laws. Civil liberties campaigners criticised the use of RIPA to monitor residents' compliance with dog fouling or refuse recycling laws.

Security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones told ZDNet UK last week that some local authority uses of RIPA were not acceptable.

"We will reduce the powers of local authorities," she said. "It's a question of how many bodies have powers and what powers they have. We want to create a situation which is less intrusive on the part of local authorities into the lives of ordinary citizens."

The Government review could also examine existing rules that force telecoms companies and ISPs to store records of individuals’ use of their systems on behalf of the authorities.

The Home Office said that its review would examine "the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) by local authorities, and access to communications data more generally".

The review will be overseen by Liberal Democrat peer and former director of public prosecutions Lord Ken Macdonald.

"We will look at the evidence presented to us and where it is clear that legislation needs to be amended or powers need to be rolled back, we will do," said May.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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