Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fighting Dustbin Hogs, the RIPA Way!

In apparently lighter vein (though still serious stuff at root), that famed investigative journal , the Daily Mail!! has sparked controversy with an undercover FOI operation which has revealed that half of Britain's local councils are using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to " watch people putting rubbish out on the wrong day".

Well you can tell what really gets the British public steamed up can't you? Forget the credit crunch, the collapse of the global economy and the war in Iraw, it's early rubbish-sneakers we're really worried about... (give them large roadside wheelie bins like we have in Embra! , says Pangloss, holding her nose).

Actually the story is (surprise) misleading - the Mail really mean that half of those who replied - only 151 out of 474 councils - admitted to tactics such as putting spy cameras on bins, lampposts and in tin cans.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, or RIPA, has apparently been used, according to the Mail be justify surveillance operations via a variety of grounds, including to 'protect public health' or the 'economic well-being of the UK'. When of course we all know it ought only to be used to catch serious criminals or terrorists. But - hang on a mo.

Pangloss is a teeny bit bemused. Local councils and police can put up CCTV cameras anyway, she thought, and merely give notice in the standard ways according to ICO Codes of Practice that they are so doing. Consent of data subjects is not needed if the purpose is to aid law enforcement or prevent crime. Why were RIPA powers needed at all? (Good for public transparency in that it would then figure in statistics, but..) Presumably because it was covert monitoring which is usually regarded as against DP law (see ICO Codes) but is allowed under RIPA Part II.

But that Chapter - which is little talked of in digital circles , as we are normally interested in the parts on interception and retention of communications and traffic data, and encryption - to a large extent merely codified previously existing police powers (or so I have always assumed). It was the *monitoring* and *decryption* Parts - 1 and 3 - which were novel with RIPA, and which were delayed in implementation by political controversy.

Furthermore none of RIPA was actually specifically introduced as an anti- terror law - it originated well before 9/11 etc and makes as many references to crime (not just serious crime) , economic well being and public health (eg) as "terror" or national security. It was the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 which was a specific response to terror (surprise).

Whichi s not to say that this wasn't a bad use of a bad law, and we should hope the Mail does more entertaining digital investigations in future :) But it may not actually have been an "abuse of anti terror law" at all.

(belated thanks to Hugh Hancock for pointing me towards this story!)

No comments: