More RIPA Creep

I previously blogged about the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was sold as a means to tackle terrorism, and other serious crimes, being used against animal rights protestors. The latest news from the UK is that a local council has used provisions of the act to put a couple and their children under surveillance, for "suspected fraudulent school place applications":

Poole council said it used the legislation to watch a family at home and in their daily movements because it wanted to know if they lived in the catchment area for a school, which they wanted their three-year-old daughter to attend.

This kind of thing happens again and again. When campaigning for a law's passage, the authorities invoke the most heinous of criminals -- terrorists, kidnappers, drug dealers, child pornographers -- but after the law is passed, they start using it in more mundane situations.

Another article. And this follow-up.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 1:04 PM • 37 Comments

Comments

Pass A BroadLawApril 15, 2008 1:37 PM

"...but after the law is passed, they start using it in more mundane situations."

That sounds like a good thing to keep in mind when we advocate passing a BroadLaw.

Nomen PublicusApril 15, 2008 1:53 PM

Right now our "wonderful" UK government is attempting to persuade parliament to increase the time a suspect may be held without being charged from 14 to 42 (!!) days. Originally they attempted to get the limit increased to 90 days but not even some strong arm tactics could convince parliament to put up with that. For comparison the equivalent time the US is only 2 days.

Spokesdroids for the government are making all kinds of claims about terrorist activity and the difficulty of decrypting the contents of computers belonging to suspects yet they are unable to present ANY evidence to back up their claims.

If this change in the law gets through, it will be subject to function creep, just like RIPA.

Brandioch ConnerApril 15, 2008 1:59 PM

That's why I believe that every single law passed should have an expiration date.

3 years, 5 years, whatever.

That way the political creatures can "justify" their existence by passing/killing old laws.

Instead, they "need" to keep passing MORE laws to "prove" that they're "doing something" about whatever it is they think will look good in the media.

GeorgeApril 15, 2008 2:11 PM

It's the same way that National Security Letters, a provision of the USA-Patriot Act that lets agents bypass the Fourth Amendment to strike rapidly against terrorists, has been used hundreds of thousands of times in the FBI alone for all sorts of things having nothing to do with terrorism. Fortunately, the Congressional investigation that revealed this usage led to the head of the FBI promising to set up internal guidelines that prevent abuse, so we can be confident the FBI will no longer abuse this shortcut. Or at least I think that's what he said.

It should be obvious that whenever you set up a provision that lets police shortcut civil liberties in "emergency situations," there will soon be an immediate proliferation of "emergencies." But politicians never seem to learn this oft-repeated lesson. That's theoretically why we have a Constitution in the United States, although that doesn't mean much when the Unitary Executive decides it doesn't apply to him-- and we let him get away with it out of fear.

ÖApril 15, 2008 2:17 PM

... and some more creepy examples of (ab)using ripa:

"Gosport borough council in Hampshire said yesterday that it was currently using Ripa for an undercover investigation into dog fouling. Council officers equipped with digital cameras and binoculars are spying on dog walkers.

Chris Davis, the council's head of internal audit, said: "We have strategically placed members of our enforcement team to blend in with the natural environment and observe people walking dogs. They are using digital cameras to get hard evidence. Dog fouling is a real issue and in this case it is happening close to a leisure facility where children play."

Stoke-on-Trent city council said it used Ripa to investigate "illegal building work", while several councils have put cameras in tins and piles of twigs to catch fly-tippers."

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/04/12/nspy112.xml

MarkApril 15, 2008 2:30 PM

@Nomen Publicus
Right now our "wonderful" UK government is attempting to persuade parliament to increase the time a suspect may be held without being charged from 14 to 42 (!!) days. Originally they attempted to get the limit increased to 90 days but not even some strong arm tactics could convince parliament to put up with that. For comparison the equivalent time the US is only 2 days.

But only for "terrorist suspects" which currently appears to mean dark skinned and/or Islamic people. Which has both "false negatives", people who fit this profile, but who are of no danger to the public (including those who might imagine they are, but lack the competence actually be) and "false negatives", people who in no way fit this profile but are of extreme to the public.

@Nomen Publicus
Spokesdroids for the government are making all kinds of claims about terrorist activity and the difficulty of decrypting the contents of computers belonging to suspects yet they are unable to present ANY evidence to back up their claims.

The claim is a non sequitur. Such difficulties could could occur in a wide variety of criminal cases. They are also likely to not be present in all cases related to terrorism. Not all terrorism involves complex conspiracy nor do all terrorists store their plans on computers.

Tangerine BlueApril 15, 2008 2:51 PM

Eugene, exhuming opponents' grandmothers is despicable indeed.

Are the animal rights activists being investigated under RIPA suspected of being the body snatchers?

Should all the Queen's subjects cede their civil liberties so that body snatchers and kitten huffers can more expeditiously be brought to justice?

CipherChaosApril 15, 2008 3:44 PM

RIPA sounds one hell of a lot like the U.S. PATRIOT act; the latter has a significant history of abuse.

Pass A BroadLawApril 15, 2008 3:44 PM

@Nomen Publicus

"If this change in the law gets through, it will be subject to function creep, just like RIPA."

Can you name a type of law that is not subject to function creep?

eugeneApril 15, 2008 4:08 PM

@Tangerine Blue
Mainly my point was that animal rights groups in the UK aren't as innocuous as the first sentence of this entry implies and most the American readership would perceive.

Dom De Vitto April 15, 2008 4:34 PM

This is my council, and what's worse is that the applicants DID own a property 'in catchment - they just owned another outside it, and the council thought this was 'suspicious' enough to 'spy' on them.
(turns out they were in the process of moving from one to the other)

The school in question (we looked at it once, but instead moved into another area) is very good, but certainly not worth buying a £300,000 house for (that's $600,000 USD)

mozApril 15, 2008 4:35 PM

For UK authorities; a warrant can be issued: (RIPA Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 5 *)

(a) in the interests of national security;

(b) for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime;

(c) for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom; or

Of those, the only obvious one is that other parents might be terrorised that their child will lose his/her school place so section a) must apply and the use of RIPA is easy to justify.

* http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/ukpga_20000023_en_2

wawatsonApril 15, 2008 5:05 PM

@Moz
You've obviously missed Poole Council's point ... this act was invoked by them on *three* separate occasions because of their suspicions of the commission of a serious crime (fraudulently sneaking their kids into a school when outside of the catchment area).

Obviously a really heinous crime !!

A.J.BlennerhassettApril 15, 2008 6:16 PM

I suggest that all such laws that include "detention without charge" have a provision that states that each suspect be paid $10,000 a day, for every day in custody, if they are released without being charged or the charges fail in court. This to be paid immediately the suspect is released, without them having to sue anyone, or go to court to prove wrongful arrest.
This provision could be subject to all sorts of rorts (misuse), but would ensure that the "detention without charge" ability was used with care, and those innocents subject to it had some compensation.
For "extraordinary rendition" it should be $100,000/day. But that might tempt the torturers to conceal their failures in a rather permanent way.

meApril 15, 2008 11:32 PM

"I suggest that all such laws that include "detention without charge" have a provision that states that each suspect be paid $10,000 a day, for every day in custody, if they are released without being charged or the charges fail in court."

And a part of that cost should come directly out of the police commissioner's and the minister of the police's pay.

Ctrl-Alt-DelApril 16, 2008 12:08 AM

@ Moz,

I like the one you left out:
(d) for the purpose, in circumstances appearing to the Secretary of State to be equivalent to those in which he would issue a warrant by virtue of paragraph (b), of giving effect to the provisions of any international mutual assistance agreement.

In other words, if interpol, the FBI or CIA asked him to.

However, all that section relates to interception of mail or email. I'm not sure how it relates to photographing pooping dogs. Perhaps that act is covered later in the Act ...

Clive RobinsonApril 16, 2008 2:07 AM

There appears to be a little missunderstanding as to what RIPA is about.

It's supposed intent was to set up a legal framework by which covert survielance and wiretapping would be regulated to protect "persons legal or natural".

In actuality what it has done is open the eyes of the entities with permision to snoop under RIPA to what they are alowed to do. Where as previously the majority would not have snooped through fear of legal action.

If people in the UK think far enough back they will remeber that the person sponsering the bill through parliment was "David Blunket" the then Home Office Minister. When the public preasure became to great to ignor he supposedly had a conversation with his son and removed a number of "entities" of the list of those permited to snoop.

For those unfortunate entities not on the list we would be commiting criminal activity if we did snoop.

One perhaps unforseen consiquence of RIPA is that it might be used against those wishing to push content related advertising at Internet users in the UK irespective of where the adverts are pushed from in the world.

The reason I say unforseen is that the marketing industry did not lobby about RIPA and the current UK government is usually loath to pass any legislation that might affect their future employment prospects in the comercial world. And marketing is possibly the biggest business of all these days.

This "unfortunate consiquence" will if somebody has large enough "private parts" make for interesting case law.

If you look on cryptome you will find a released analysis document by the UK Home Office.

SejanusApril 16, 2008 2:21 AM

Animal rights activists like ALF or PETA are ussualy stupid enough to become a real treat to everybody. Blowing up labs, burning down farms..?

KristineApril 16, 2008 3:18 AM

@Ö, from the quote: "Dog fouling is a real issue and in this case it is happening close to a leisure facility where children play"

And there we have it: "Think of the children!11!"


Kristine

MagnumApril 16, 2008 3:34 AM

As somebody who has trained in RIPA (although it does not apply to my work), I thought I would clarify some points.

The major sections of RIPA fall into three categories.

Covert Surveillance - This is the use of directed, covert surveillance. There are a number of justifications, including national security, prevention and detection of crime, public safety or health and collection of taxes. Covert Surveillance is mainly used by Local Authorities against fly tipping, council tax dodgers etc. Note that intrusive surveillance (ie surveillance of the interior of a home or private vehicle), can mainly only be carried out in the interests of national security (intel), prevention of serious crime (coppers), and in the interest of the economic well being of the UK(intel again).

Surveillance must be necessary and proportionate. In the case of the school application, I would be highly doubtful about whether the surveillance is necessary (there were plenty of other avenues available) or proportionate (covert surveillance was serious overkill for potential abuse of the school application process).

Interception of Communications - Basically Law Enforcement and Intelligence Agencies only, this sets out the requirements for a warrant etc. This is the section quoted by Moz above, and is entirely irrelevant in this case.

There are also sections around collection of information relating to communications, and the use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (snitches). But I am not going into that.

An example of where RIPA does or does not apply would be a CCTV camera. An advertised CCTV camera on the street is not covert, therefore RIPA does not apply. If someone is robbed or attacked, and the CCTV camera is used to track the perpetrators location (yeah right), RIPA does not apply (while this is directed surveillance, it is an immediate response to unforseen events or circumstances). If however, you plan to use that CCTV camera to watch a particular person, doorway, building, whatever, RIPA does apply, and authorisation is required.

RIPA actually sets out some valuable rules around when surveillance can be performed. That said, I think the law has some serious failings, particularly around enforcement. Breaching RIPA gets you a slap on the wrist, the consequences should be more severe.

Fatbloke2April 16, 2008 3:43 AM

"Gosport borough council in Hampshire said yesterday that it was currently using Ripa for an undercover investigation into dog fouling..."

Actually, I don't have a problem with this. Dog fouling is a significant and persistant problem especially where I live. I would welcome my local council being as proactive as Gosport and performing such investigations (fat chance!) Our council has one dog warden for the entire borough!

Performing such surveillance sounds to me like an ideal way of ensuring that local byelaws on dog fouling are complied with. Does anyone have any better ways?

I'd love to see more prosecutions of people who fail to clear up their dog mess. If this is one way of achieving this end and making dog owners more responsible, then so be it.

SteveJApril 16, 2008 6:18 AM

RIPA was not "sold as a means to tackle terrorism".

I don't doubt that terrorism was mentioned at some point during its passage through parliament. But it was passed in early 2000, before anyone in the UK knew or cared about Islamic terrorism. Paedophiles were the devil back then, and they were indeed evoked to support RIPA.

The main selling points as I remember them were that it was necessary to deal with organised crime and online crime. And, especially, organised online crime. But it provides a general framework for surveillance and comms interception (hence the name: Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

The main criticism at the time was that the powers granted were excessive: clauses initially unenacted included mandatory registration of all security professionals, a police power to demand encryption passwords from suspects and to gag them to prevent them warning accomplices, and the granting of new surveillance powers to local authorities and other government bodies not involved with serious crime.

The fact that it grants these powers to local authorities is the clue that it has nothing to do with terrorism - Poole local council has not and never will investigate international terrorist organisations, and nobody ever claimed or thought that it would.

So, this is not a surprise (at least in the UK) except to those with short memories, and is nothing to do with terrorism hype. RIPA was always intended to allow little-league investigators, such as those working for local authorities, to use the toys designed for the big boys, and that was never hidden.

You'll note that the BBC article says "laws to track criminals and terrorists". It's a sneaky trick by them, and Bruce (along with many others) has fallen for it. We naturally assume that "criminals and terrorists" must mean that the powers involved were intended only for use against the worst of the worst, and that some deception must therefore have occurred. But fraud is a crime - falsely declaring your address in order to get preference at a particular school is a crime - and RIPA was designed to allow heavy-handed tactics against suspects of such crimes. Which is what has happened here. No deception was involved, just overbearing government.

SteveJApril 16, 2008 6:35 AM

@Nomen Publicus: "increase the time a suspect may be held without being charged from 14 to 42 (!!) days"

Point of information: it's currently 28, which is the compromise reached by Blair after 90 days was shot down. You're right though that Brown is hoping for 42.

Good news recently is that the Labour rebels who are going to vote against it seem pretty confident that they have the numbers to stop it. At least that's what one of the rebels, Dianne Abbot, said. The question is whether the Labour whip can/will bring enough pressure to bear to flip any of them.

I think it's pretty clear what's going on here. The government and police want to be able to detain suspects for as long as they possibly can - there's nothing magical about 14 days, or 28, or 42, or 90. Once someone is charged, police powers to question them end, so the issue is how long you have after the point of arrest to conduct further investigations, and question the suspect based on the results of those investigations.

So, since the government wants "as long as possible", it's pretty obvious that they will propose a further extension every time they think they can get it. In this case it looks as though they misjudged the mood, but we'll see. There'll quite likely be another round in another couple of years, and then possibly again under the next government, whoever that is. The threat of internment powers is ongoing.

If the opposition and the rebels had guts, they wouldn't just block the 42-day extension, they'd also be proposing amendments to put it back down from 28 to 14 days. That might lead to the amusing spectacle of the government whipping the party against its own (amended) bill...

raiApril 16, 2008 11:02 AM

there is no power the government does not grant to itself and its gang of thugs.
Every power will be granted by a legislature who will sell it as good and necessary and never to be abused, the they will give it to thier gangsters and it will be abused that same week and will eventually become routine.
Because the government choses to treat all citizens as terrorists at the airport or in other venues, there is a huge deal of false accusations and injustice built right into the system. We are not terrorists, we are not prisoners, we must uphold our rights because the craven politicians will not, they are corrupted by power.
Do not expect people with power to be ethical, expect a bush every time. And jam the system with as much false data on yourself and whoever else so that they have eventually to get priorities straight or surveil everyone all the time.

GrahamIXApril 16, 2008 4:49 PM

Magnum - regarding interception of communications data, it is my understanding that local authorities and other bodies *do* have the power to demand comms data. Email addressees, email subject (but not body), web browsing history. Who you are calling on your landline and mobile, who you receive calls from. What councils are not authorised to do under the Act is to get an actual wiretap.

MagnumApril 17, 2008 7:55 AM

GrahamIX - You will see I stated "There are also sections around collection of information relating to communications, and the use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (snitches). But I am not going into that."

You are correct, and that falls under "information relating to communications".

There are some further restrictions on what data they can request, but this is one of the bits I am not entirely familiar with.

I do not agree with this section of RIPA, I don't see why your local council should be able to request your browsing history or call records without a warrant.

AntoniaTigerApril 17, 2008 5:04 PM

The whole Phorm affair, in which they intend to monitor and analyse your web browsing so as to deliver appropriate adverts, might fall under RIPA, or it might not. The whole thing is beginning to look like a tangled legal mess that I'm not competent to judge. If RIPA does apply to your telco, there might not be anyone willing to enforce the law.

But it's funny how everyone tells you they might be recording the phonecalls to a call centre, and BT have been cheerfully testing Phorm without telling the customers whose web browsing they record.

The OracleApril 17, 2008 9:30 PM

Creeping Fascism.

The Fascist mindset always follows the same pattern...using fear to push for greater and greater intrusion into the privacy of citizens...and always has its roots in conservatism of one form or another...with claims that conservative "Big Brothers" are only out to protect everyone from the "bogeyman."

So, after decades during the Cold War of U.S. spy satellites being forbidden from training their high-resolution cameras on U.S. soil, why is Chertoff and DHS now claiming it is necessary to spy on U.S. citizens on U.S. soil to stop the right-wing religious terrorists?

I have a hard time believing that U.S. outer-space spy satellites will be able to detect right-wing religious terrorist sleeper cells on the ground. Prior reports indicate that suspected terrorist "sleeper" cells have been detected using ground-based surveillance...which makes a patriotic U.S. citizen wonder what the hell the Fascist Republicans actually intend on doing with high-resolution spy satellite imaging? Is this just the "higher" layer of a "total information awareness" blanket intended for the United States, with a "lower" layer being remote-controlled drone spy planes (which several police departments have reportedly shown interest in purchasing as part of a federal (Fascist)/local policing blanket?

I personally doubt that any of these overhead surveillance layers are meant to protect US from right-wing religious terrorists or to try to stop a right-wing attack like 9/11. Fascist Republicans and conservatives in general, including a few conservative Democrats, are literally trying to lock-down our freedom-loving nation and turn US into a maximum-security prison...with all these "law-abiding" right-wingers being the jailers.

I expect die-hard, properly-brainwashed right-wingers to fall for this crap, but I hope that independents and liberals see through this "national security" smokescreen. and see the fascism lurking behind. Their children and grand-children are counting on them.

KiloApril 18, 2008 5:33 AM

"I previously blogged about the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was sold as a means to tackle terrorism, and other serious crimes, being used against animal rights protestors."

Yes you did Bruce.
Then your readers pointed out that those "protestors" were actually engaged in terrorism campaigns.
Then you ignored that, made no attempt to retract or even qualify your claim that this law was being misused, and continued with your biased assessment of issues relating to terrorism. As per usual.

ianJuly 13, 2008 9:26 AM

RIPA is a set of restrictions - it gives the Council power to authorise the use of pre-existing powers where these would now be prohibited, but only in limited circumstances. They are not new powers being used. It was put into place not to combat terrorism but to correct a stupid situation caused by that almighty cockup known as the human rights act

fredNovember 26, 2008 1:00 PM

How does RIPA play in then with the Human Rights Act? the only remedy for a situation like the school placement would be to complain to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal who have a wide discretion to decide whether or not they even want to hear the case- what if they refuse? where then would you go? Or- if they allow the complaint, they simply apply judicial review as per s.67(2) which doesnt even go into the merits of the argument but would be so long as it is satifisied with the legislation...and the legislation is so wide to include all types of small "crimes". So, chances are they will probably refuse the complaint. So, again- where do you go? You need to make a request to the Sec of State for further consideration of that decision...and to do so, the Sec of State must bring the matter to the House of Parliament!! oh and by the way, even if the tribunal allows your complaint they have to write a report to the Prime Minister basically justifying it!

a bloody joke!

This is the further point

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