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Police demand access to calls, texts and e-mails - June-14-12
Source: The Times - Law
New police powers to seize details of people’s phone calls, texts, e-mails and social networking messages could be a “matter of life and death”, the head of Scotland Yard says in The Times today.
Bernard Hogan-Howe warns that police will lose the fight against crime unless Parliament passes a controversial new law enabling officers to collect more communications data. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner runs the risk that critics will accuse him of meddling in politics. But Mr Hogan-Howe is passionate about the issue and believes that greater powers to access data are essential to waging a “total war on crime”.
He will appear alongside Theresa May, the Home Secretary, at the publication of the draft Communications Data Bill this morning, his first significant foray into the political arena since taking charge at Scotland Yard nine months ago.
The proposal to give further powers to spy on websites, e-mails and texts, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds a year, have been dubbed a “snooper’s charter”. It comes as figures show that police and other law enforcement agencies are using bugging and surveillance operations against suspects at a rate of more than one a day.
Figures obtained by The Times show that authority was given for 398 intrusive surveillance operations — the planting of a listening device or secret camera in a house or vehicle — in 2010-11. The figures and today’s announcement highlight the key role now being played by technology in the fight against crime.
Mr Hogan-Howe’s description of the powers as being a “life and death” issue is thought to refer to the Yard’s success in solving dozens of kidnap cases in London every year.
Mr Hogan-Howe says that establishing where suspects have been and who they have been in contact with is essential to almost every murder investigation and has convicted some of the most notorious killers of the past decade including Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, and Levi Bellfield, who killed Milly Dowler and Amelie Delagrange.
Communications data has, the Commissioner adds, been used in every recent counter-terrorism operation and 95 per cent of investigations into serious organised crime.
Writing in The Times, Mr Hogan-Howe says: “Put simply, the police need access to this information to keep up with the criminals who bring so much harm to victims and our society.”
Under current laws, security agencies and other organisations can access data about who called whom, when and where, though not the content of the calls. The new proposals will allow them to obtain similar details about e-mails, social media messaging and other digital communications.
In an attempt to mollify critics who accuse Mrs May of creating a Big Brother State, she will announce today that local authorities and hundreds of other organisations, including the UK Border Agency and Serious Fraud Office, will be barred from accessing details of e-mails and internet use and will also lose their power to access details of phone calls.
Only the police, intelligence services, Revenue & Customs and the National Crime Agency will be able to request the communications data.
More than 550,000 requests were made for data in 2010, with the vast majority being made by secuirty agencies. Local councils made 1,809 requests and a further 2,875 were made by other agencies.
If local authorities and other public bodies want the powers, they will have to seek parliamentary approval in the future.
In spite of Mrs May’s concessions, the proposals are likely to provoke strong criticism from libertarian Conservaties and civil liberties groups.
David Davis, the former Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, said: “I think frankly this is madness.”
He added: “The people who you really want, the terrorists, the serious gangsters and paedophiles can all bypass this. It is a complete waste of time. This is an incredibly intrusive proposal. It is completely disproportionate to what is required.”
The Liberal Democrats are likely to scale back their criticism of the proposals after Nick Clegg secured safeguards, including a scrutiny inquiry by peers and MPs which will report in November.
Figures obtained by The Times on bugging by the police and other law enforcement agencies show drug investigations are the area where intrusive surveillance is used most frequently.
But the figures do not reveal the full extent of intrusive surveillance as statistics for bugging by the intelligence services are not made public on grounds of national security.
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