back to article Brown plans to admit wiretap evidence in court

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce plans for at least a partial lift of the British ban on use of wiretap evidence in court, according to reports. The conclusions of the government's deliberations following the seven-month Chilcot Review into the policy have leaked to the media ahead of the planned announcement …

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It's ironic that...

... this is "considered against the background of rapidly-eroding civil liberties" but the civil liberty supporters are actually *in favour* of allowing wiretap evidence to be used to secure convictions, whereas the Security Services oppose it.

Perhaps it's because allows proper examination of claims that "he's a terrorist, we know he is, we say he is, but you're not allowed to check our findings, so you'll just have to let us lock him up for 90 days until we can beat^H^H^H^ extract a confession".

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Alert

Most common reason for covering something up

Embarrassment

We all know they are pretty crap, whats left to hide.

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Black Helicopters

A small number of crucial cases ?

Would these be, by any chance, the ones where there is not one shred of evidence to indicate that a "suspect" has been involved with actual acts terror, nor even their planning or commissioning on anything other than a fantasy basis ?

Step forward officer Kearny with his little tape machine and a recording of a phone call in which the suspect says "Do you know what mate, some days I really could blow that fucking parliament up, bunch of useless tossers so they are, and all you'd need would be [some unlikely explosive concoction from the Anarchists Cookbook] and a rigged motor." *

And suddenly, it's fifteen years in prison.

Or the ones where there's no evidence (q.v. previous), and step forward some RIPA enabled plod with a list of websites and google searches that include things like "TATP", "Fission Bomb", "Dirty Bomb" and the like. *

Those kinds of cases ? Those kinds of cases where the government seeks to lock people away indefinitely just for knowing or talking about things ? Hey hax0r fans, look! Curiosity really IS a crime, now.

Because if so, they can take their intercept evidence and stick it where the customs officer pokes his marigolds.

OTOH I understand that there are going to be cases where intercept or surveillance evidence really is going to be the *only* kind of evidence available against some very nasty people. after all, there's no need for a cell facilitator to ever touch, let alone, possess, anything incriminating. All he has to do is put people in contact with each other, give the orders, and communicate with his own handlers.

Assuming that such people exist, fine, lets see the video and the stills, lets here the phone calls and the conversations, and then lets put them in prison until they rot.

But for some reason, I just don't trust the current gov/spook/cop gestalt to get it that way around

I would guess (complete guess, no relevant background) that such people are probably more valuable to the spooks while they are still at large, having access to multiple nodes of the network, which, if they are arrested, will (if the terror bods are sufficiently savvy) be disbanded, replaced, moved, or otherwise reorganised to hide the nodes and the links between them. Well, that's how I'd do it, anyway ,from both sides.

* I'm sure many people have had this conversation, and even more sure that it's been had a lot more often recently, and yet parliament is notably undamaged.

** Such as, say, any journalist or curious individual who likes to research the stories behind the headlines might reasonably be expected to make.

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Anonymous Coward

Cherry picking

I see a few problems.

Firstly, they plan on releasing *some* of the data, but that will lead to cherry picking, with the spooks choosing the recordings that back their case. The defence should be allowed the same access to all the recordings of that person.

All, because the person was there, so you are not telling him anything he doesn't already know. And others know when they spoke to the target, so they know too. All parties in a conversation know about the conversation!

All, because a 500GB portable hard disk can hold a lifetimes worth of voice recordings, so it's not difficult to give them a copy.

All, because voice recording equipment keeps the spooks comment, target id, channel etc. in a database with the recording. It's very trivial to give them a copy of all the voice recordings they have that include that person. I don't believe that the spooks have substandard interception equipment that doesn't meet evidence gathering standards, but yet the police do? Pull the other one it's got ringtones on it.

BTW, if you want to learn about pro voice interception/recording equipment grab the brochure.

http://www.wacs.com.au/thales.htm

The defence should be able to transcribe the parts that show their defence case as much as the prosecution can to prosecute them.

Look at it this way, you go to court, "Ivan said death to Blair in this recording here", perhaps he also said "You know, I often curse that Tony Blair but actually I'm his biggest fan and I'm just joking around" 500 times. To present only the "death to Blair" text out of context like that would be misleading.

As for the 'we have special tricks that would be revealed'. It's done in mainland Europe and I don't believe that there are tricks only known to the UK. That master class he theorises about would have already happened in mainland European cases.

IMHO, They should also remove control orders and the like. Anything where a spook, based on a secret interception, whispers in the Home Secretary's ear and he in turn imposes house arrest based on this unsound unchallengeable information. That should end, they do house arrest under political order in Burma, it has no place in the UK.

Put it another way, if the evidence wasn't sound, they'd go whisper in Home Sec's ear, but then unsound evidence is the type the court is there to protect against! It's the iffy times you exactly want the court to examine.

Likewise all the other flows of information to government departments which in turn lead to plastic police investigations. i.e. pseudo police forces in each government department that investigate stuff directly instead of asking the police to do it. Surely it's a police job?

"An example of the operational constraints this can impose can be found in the operations of bomb-disposal robots."

If BBC made a TV program "Bomb disposal, heroes on the extreme edge", they'd be lining up with their bomb disposal videos.

You can't both argue that

* Terrorist are getting off free because we can't submit the evidence

and

* We can't submit it because we need to protect our bomb disposal techniques.

Are the bomb disposal techniques so important that it's better to let terrorist go?

If you can't convince a judge it's so secret it should be kept from the defence then it shouldn't be, because the judge is the independent viewpoint.

We should get back to that system, where the police investigate, the judiciary prosecute, the government legislates. No more plastic police, taking on pseudo police roles, no more politico taking on judicial roles, no more vague legislation that leaves the fine detail up to the police.

/rant

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Why are the secret squirrels opposing this?

"The targets for criminal investigation do not know what the security services can and cannot do."

In which case, they must be remarkably ignorant. Typing "lawful intercept" into any search engine should allow most people to obtain a good grounding in the capabilities available.

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Anonymous Coward

@Graham Marsden

I like what your saying and it fits with my own ideals, however, what evidence do you have for either part of your statement?

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Jobs Horns

@Graham Marsden

I wouldn't think it would be difficult to falsify audio recordings. It's not like it wouldn't be beneath our intelligence services to do such a thing either!

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Ash

Encrypted phone conversations

Plug in a PC with a sound output, wire your phone to accept the output from the PC and feed input to the PC, run some form of audio encryption software (Nautilus was one example I remember from YEARS ago), and recommend SS* prove that your conversation wasn't just a terrible, terrible connection.

This is easier with encrypted files, where you can just delete the extension and say "Encryption? It must just be corrupt."

* Yes, yes... Godwin's Law. Apolgies.

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@Chris Miller

I think they meant what the services physically can/cannot do rather than the legal aspect. The top of the line surveillance kit probably isn't altogether too easy to get online - and bear in mind that the targets of the statement are the same people who couldn't do a good enough Google search to realise that binary explosives in 100ml quantities aren't going to do a lot of good. Why the bastards couldn't have planned big and taken 5 litre bottles I do not know. Airport life would far easier if the limit was at 4.5 litres rather than 100ml!

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Contrary to any Perceived or PreConceived Opinion

"It's also just possible that the spooks of old Blighty are actually mainly worried about people learning quite how limited their capabilities are, rather than the disclosure of an armoury of impressive unknown tricks. The spies might perhaps be more afraid of embarrassment than operational compromise."

I should just like to ensure the Board that such concerns are unwarranted and have no Foundation in Fact. QuiTe what the spooks of old Blighty can do, are not limited in any Capability. And QuITe beyond the Ken of Careless Disclosure. That which they Possess is Priceless beyond Compare and can Destroy All who would Dare ITs Might and Decline ITs Gracious Embrace of the Challenge. The Virtual Kiss of Death for a Wrong Un, a Renegade or a Rogue and all wrought by Ones Own Folly of Choices Clearly XXXXPlained.

And their Boffins have Jumping to a Fine Tempestuous AIRt2 ........ Astute NEUKlearer Technology which is a Shared Top Secret when Openly Shared but you will have Trouble Believing IT42BTrue. Although that is ITs Master Key with Parallel Support.

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@AC

The article is about wiretaps, not the kind of bugging device that was used in the Sadiq Khan MP case. Phone service providers are required to provide lawful intercept information to properly authorised persons. How this is done is set out in public documents from ETSI.

The intercept information obviously cannot exceed that available to the service provider - viz:

Who: source and destination phone numbers

When: accurate date and time stamp

Where: physical location (for mobiles based on the local cell being used)

What: recording of the conversation.

All this info is readily available to terrorists. The squirrels tell us that they are very sophisticated, although most of the evidence is that they're closer to the "terror clowns" described by Lewis in an earlier article.

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@DavetheRave

"I wouldn't think it would be difficult to falsify audio recordings."

Don't you remember what a cock-up they made of using photoshop to doctor the picture of an innocent Brazillian to look more like an islamic terrorist?

I was also concerned at the way the judge in the 21/7 plotters trial tried to blame them for the De Menezes shooting. Well if the blame can be spread wider than the incompetent spooks who allowed an innocent man to be repeatedly shot, having trailed him halfway across London, who else can have a share? Step forward Mr T Blair, for dragging a protesting country into an illegal war!

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755,000 terrorists

I remembered that number from some earlier article ... I am sure there are juicy recordings on all of them ....

But in the end I'd like to see proper policework before they start sending people to prison. How do they distinguish the bored kids from the nasties if you only look at some emails fragments and phonecalls? Leave the spooks play with their taps and toys, but when they go to a judge they should bring the physical evidence.

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Pirate

"Security" services

historically, these organizations have consistently attracted people of few and flexible morals. also historically, they usually don't want any evidence of this to get a public airing.

i wouldn't call the entire organization ethics-free (no more so than, say, Halliburton, Enron, Blackwater, Microsoft, or Exxon-Mobil), but history teaches that a significant minority, if not majority, of people usually employed by these outfits, is best suited only for shadow ops or political office.

the argument goes something like: "somebody's got to make the sausage, you know."

this is why they don't want ANY of their activities admissible as evidence. any questionable deed is that much more likely to end up in official records, which can subsequently be subject to disclosure.

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@AC and DaveTheRave

AC: "what evidence do you have for either part of your statement?"

To quote Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty:

“Our reluctance to use phone tap evidence in terror cases like most other countries is frankly mind-boggling. Surely the Government and police recognise that this is a far more effective tool than bringing back internment by holding suspects for 90 days without charge.”

Dave: "I wouldn't think it would be difficult to falsify audio recordings."

Other have already mentioned the De Menezes "faked" photo and taking comments out of context, but consider also if the Security Services attempted to falsify recordings eg by inserting "doctored" phrases, all it would take is *one* example of someone being able to show (eg by recording their own conversations) that such a recording had been faked to cast serious doubt on *all* such evidence in future.

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Jobs Horns

Well BUG'er me..

"Bug me but not my MP"

Who cares if its bugs, taps, washers or what-ever - intrusion is intrusion is intrusion....

But judging by constant revelations perhaps the beta should use MP's as the test base.

Oh! silly me, the Kremlin and White House probably do that already ;-P

Nice one Gorders!..

love Waldo

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"there will be a complex regime of checks and safeguards"

I'll bet there will be, and it will be so complex that there will be a number of ways to go around them perfectly "legally" and still have the "evidence" presented to the court.

As for doctoring a sound recording, I think it is quite a bit more difficult than fixing pixels on a picture. It has something to do with harmonics, and I'm sure an expert of proper qualifications could tell in an instant if the recording had been tampered with.

And, given the poor performance of the doctored pictures we have been presented with, I have no doubt that changing a recording in a believable manner will be far beyond the abilities of the plod charged with the tweak.

On the other hand, faking a recording entirely might be a lot easier to do, and more difficult to spot.

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Anonymous Coward

Take your tin foil hats off.

Most of you naysayers haven't given even the slightest consideration to legitimate uses for this legislation, instead jumping on the tinfoil hat bandwagon.

The reason for this legislation is probably the same as that for why similar legislation was introduced in Australia.

Previously, evidence of serious crime such as trafficking child pornography incidentally collected as SIGINT intercept could not be actioned at all, in anyway. The intercept (or even a tipoff) could not be passed to the police, nor used in court.

How would you feel if you were an analyst at GCHQ, you came across this sort of material in incidentally collected SIGINT, and knew you could do absolutely nothing whatsoever about it?

Disclosing the full details of how the intercept was collected gives away vital details of SIGINT capabilities, which essentially renders those capabilities useless.

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