UK: Interception of Communications Commissioner report
- interception warrants reach a new high
- a staggering 439,054 requests lodged for communications data


The annual report from the Interception of Telecommunications Commissioner has been issued covering 2005 and the first three months of 2006 (up to 31 March). This makes direct comparisons with previous years difficult. See: "Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Report for 2005/6" and Statewatch's Observatory on telecommunications warrants, 1937 - 31 March 2006.

The number of interception warrants issued in England, Wales and Scotland in the fifteen month period totalled 2,407 to which has to be added a further 5,143 "modifications" making an overall total of 7,550. (For an explanation of how "modifications" affect the overall figures and of other changes, eg: warrants are now also issued for longer periods which means that fewer rather than more warrants should be issued: see Statewatch analysis: How changes in procedure disguise true surveillance figures)

Adjusting the fifteen months figures into four equally divided quarters would give an annual figure for 2005 of: 1,926 warrants issued (down from 1,973 in 2004) with 3,797 "modifications" (up from 3,367, 2004) giving a new high of: 5,723 (up from 5,340, 2004).

The Interceptions Commissioner is now charged with overseeing 795 agencies and organisations. These cover nine agencies (eg: MI5, GCHQ and MI6, National Criminal Intelligence Service - NCIS, Police Service for Northern Ireland), though no figures are given for GCHQ, MI6 (coming under the Foreign Office) and Northern Ireland. Plus 52 police forces, 12 other law enforcement agencies (eg: Royal Military Police and British Transport Police), 139 prisons, 475 local authorities (authorised to acquire communications data under RIPA, Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) and 108 other organisations (eg: Serious Fraud Office) also authorised to acquire communications data under RIPA. "Communications data" means traffic data for phone calls, mobile phone calls, faxes, e-mails and internet usage.

The agencies (excluding MI6, GCHQ and Northern Ireland) and the 52 police force figures are included in the total number of warrants. However, the data given on the 475 local authorities and the 108 other public bodies - who have the powers to acquire communications data - is sketchy to say the least.

We are told that only 124 out of 475 local authorities are "making use of their powers" as are only 26 of the 108 other public authorities. The Commissioner says: "I am concerned that so many authorities who applied for powers to be given to them, apparently do not use them and I do not know why this is." He goes on to say:

"if this state of affairs continues unexplained, then consideration must be given to removing the powers from them".

No figures are provided by the Commissioner for the powers of these 150 authorities to acquire communications data.

Further into the report a global figure is provided, for the first time, of the total number of requests by "public authorities" (the nine agencies, 52 police forces, 139 prisons, 124 local authorities and 26 other public authorities) for communications data from service providers - it was a staggering 439,054 requests.

However, the Commissioner says that it is the law enforcement agencies:

"who are the principal users of communications data [who] have acquired fully automated systems"

In November 2005 Statewatch News Online reported that:

"According to recent documents from T-mobile seen by Statewatch that company has an automated e-mail system that allows law enforcement agencies to retrieve subscriber and billing details by consulting the system directly - all they need is a mobile phone number. This process requires no human intervention from T-mobile staff: the system automatically generates spreadsheets showing the subscriber and billing information and sends them to the law enforcement e-mail address."

See for full background: Data retention and police access in the UK - a warning for Europe

Background on RIPA and communications data

Under Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 police can use section 22 (S22) and section 23 (S23) notices on service providers to access the data retained by service providers in accordance with the UK voluntary code on data retention (soon to be mandatory under EU law).

S22 notices are used to authorise direct police access to the data where this is technically possible (see above)

S23 notices are served on providers holding data

Both are authorised by police officers holding the rank of inspector or superintendent (depending on the nature of the crime in connection with which data is sought)

i.e. the only time a warrant is now necessary is if the police want to access communications in “real time” or want to access to the “content data”.

How many S22 and S23 notices have been issued and for what purposes?

The commitment to data retention in Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act (ATCSA 2001) only allowed the retention of communications data for national security and related offices but RIPA 2000 allows for:

(a) national security,
(b) crime/disorder
(c) UK economic interests
(d) public safety
(e) public health
(f) tax etc.
(g) preventing death or injury

Other matters

The Commissioner's report also contains a strongly worded attack on the idea to allow the use of interception evidence in court and calls for the ban on placing MPs under surveillance to be lifted.

Intelligence Commissioner report 2005 - 31 March 2006

While the Interception Commissioner's report contains few statisitcs the Intelligence Commissioner's report contains none at all: Intelligence Commissioner report for 2005 to 31 March 2006

The Commissioner oversees the surveillance activities of MI5 (the Security Service), MI6 (the Secret Service), GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), relevant Ministry of Defence and Northern Irealnd activity.

The "activities" under RIPA 2000 covered are:

- warrants for telecommunications interception (traffic data and content) (RIPA, Part I)
- communications data authorisations (RIPA, Part I)
- "covert surveillance", both "intrusive" (home, office or vehicle) and "directed" (RIPA, Part II)
- "covert human intelligence sources" (CHIS, "undercover offiers, agents, informants and the like") (RIPA, Part II)

and under the Intelligence Services Act:

- warrants "for entry on or interference with property or with wireless telegraphy (the placing of listening/videoing devices, "bugs")
- authorisations for act taken outside the UK

In line with past practice the Commissioner concludes that:

"I do not propose to disclose publicly the number of warrants or authorisations issued to the agencies."

Investigatory Powers Tribunal

For the first time over both reports note that a complaint (by two individuals) to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal had been upheld and compensation awarded. No details are given, however, owing to the different wording it would appear the complaint concerned the Interception Commissioner.


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