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The number of local officials who can authorise access to communications records and order surveillance operations will be cut under changes to snooping regulations announced today. The Home Office's move follows repeated controversy over the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by local authorities probing …

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Rob
Bronze badge

The mother from Poole

Granted the Poole authorities might have over reacted a tad with using their RIPA powers the other side of the coin is the Mum is on record as saying she 'played the system' to get the school placement, hence why Poole thought they had justification to investigate.

The parents in question have a number of properties and the one they are currently claiming for the school placement was due to be sold.

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Anonymous Coward

All men are created equal

What is special about a director that makes them different from others? Nothing.

The problem is the lack of independent controls on these RIPA requests not the person abusing the powers. The basic checks need to be put back in place, and the grand experiment in collective criminality ended.

IMHO, every RIPA request to any body for any reason should be notified to the target of the RIPA request. If the rozzers want to keep it secret, they have to justify it to a court and get an order.

If they're doing nothing wrong, then they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear by an independent check on their RIPA requests.

-----

GEORGE W BLAIR FOR EU PRESIDENT!

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Black Helicopters

Never look a gift horse in the mouth ...

.. but this has me asking "Why?"

When has this or any other recent government cared about what its employers, the people, actually think? Why would they curtail RIPA? Or are we witnessing a spot of "not with my toys" between big gov and little gov?

I write this standing by the front door to save the stormtroopers the bother of kicking it down when they come to collect me.

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FAIL

Only director-level officials will now be able to authorise use of RIPA powers?

Let me guess, we'll see a sudden flowering of new roles such as Director of Public Waste Collection, Director of Educational Entitlement, etc?

Why not just fire anyone who abuses the power? Should be self-limiting.

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Anonymous Coward

Orealy?

"Only director-level officials will now be able to authorise use of RIPA powers"

Does anyone know if this would make them accountable for when such powers are used?

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Stop

Simply firing isn't enough

They need to be fired _AND_ added to the vetting-database, so they're not just fired-then-rehired.

//Svein

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Big Brother

@Steve X

"Let me guess, we'll see a sudden flowering of new roles such as Director of Public Waste Collection, Director of Educational Entitlement, etc?"

Director of Public Waste Collection = Director of Public Works

They already exist... Do they actually say how many directors there already are?

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Grenade

@ All men are created equal.

Your comments, and some others here, and indeed anywhere, on this subject, show a lack of basic knowledge regarding RIPA.

'What is special about a director?'

Someone of director level is expected to hold significant and substantial responsiblity for the actions of an authority that are authorised or instigated by them and hence raise the level of responsibility assumed by the authority as a whole. This may not be the case with lower level officers. A local authority will no longer be able to use the excuse that it was a low level officer that authorised it and not consistent with usual practice.

'The problem is the lack of independent controls on these RIPA requests...' and 'The basic checks need to be put back in place...'

You've obviously never seen a RIPA application. Every appilcation has to demonstrate that several factors have been considerd before an application can be authorised. These include proprtionality, necessity, lack of alternative means of obtainign the information, possible collateral intrusion, among others. To say that there are no basic checks disregards the fact that, if they're doing it right, they have several hoops to jump through before any applciation is approved.

'IMHO every RIPA request to any body for any reason should be notified to the target of the RIPA request.'

That's just impractical, unworkable and downright silly.

'If they're doing nothing wrong, then they have nothing to hide...'

I've heard that line before.

'...and nothing to fear by an independent check on their RIPA requests.'

All authorities that are entitled to use RIPA powers are inspected regularly by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. At the authority I'm based at we have in the past been inspected by Lord Colville. I think it's fair to say that classes as an 'independent check' don't you?

On a general note RIPA IS FOR THE INVESTIGATION OF CRIMES. If it's being used incorrectly that is the fault of the Authority and the OIC inspector not of the Act.

As pointed out by El Reg itself, applications to use RIPA by local authorities are a tiny fraction of the overall number of applications that are mainly approved by the police and security services. Maybe the focus of this whole debate is a little off?

If you think a council is misusing RIPA then put in an FOI request for their inspection report. If they're not using it right the report should show that and you can take them to task. If it doesn't then you need to give the OSC a kick up the arse.

On a final point, all this will do is mean that the directors will have to rubberstamp applications that have been prepared by the, hopefully, trained officers that are already completing them. Just what we need another cog in the machine.

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Anonymous Coward

@impractical, unworkable and downright silly

'IMHO every RIPA request to any body for any reason should be notified to the target of the RIPA request."....That's just impractical, unworkable and downright silly....

Not at all, you make a request, it isn't accompanied by a demand to keep it secret, the ISP has to notify you. This is similar to the US law requiring the person being searched to be informed of the search to ensure they can challenge it if they think its illegal.

So it's not impractical, it's US law. Your attempt to belittle it, suggests a weak argument.

"All authorities that are entitled to use RIPA powers are inspected regularly by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. At the authority I'm based at we have in the past been inspected by Lord Colville. I think it's fair to say that classes as an 'independent check' don't you?"

No, he has no idea if it's being abused, he just asks the person if they used it properly, they say 'yes' and he says, well that's OK then. If the person being spied on, is for example, the girlfriend of the officer, he has no idea. The girlfriend would know, but she never gets to find out.

This is why the US has a notice of search sent to the person whose property is being searched and the court can keep this notice secret or delay it if necessary so as not to screw up an investigation.

"On a general note RIPA IS FOR THE INVESTIGATION OF CRIMES. If it's being used incorrectly that is the fault of the Authority and the OIC inspector not of the Act."

And when it is, they can get their RIPA requests kept secret.

Again, there's nothing special about the words of an officer vs the words of a director vs the words of a H&S inspector.... they're all just people, all flawed.

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@ AC 16:00

'So it's not impractical, it's US law. Your attempt to belittle it, suggests a weak argument.'

It appears we have a slight mix up here. When I refer to use of RIPA I'm talking about surveillance and obtaining communications information I'm not referring to searches. That's not an area I'm familiar with.

If you're also referring to surveillance then my point still stands. If you weren't, then ignore this paragraph. How do you expect to catch someone in the act of committing a crime if you've told them you're observing them? You can see why I was a bit flippant in my response.

'No, he has no idea if it's being abused, he just asks the person if they used it properly, they say 'yes' and he says, well that's OK then. If the person being spied on, is for example, the girlfriend of the officer, he has no idea. The girlfriend would know, but she never gets to find out.'

Yes, because that's exactly how the Assistant Surveillance Commssioner carries out his inspections. With regards to misuse of powers it is never in my experience the person that authorises the application is never the same person that carries out the surveillance. Indeed in the authority I work at the authorising officer has to be from a completely different department in order to avoid any conflict of interest. It is then the responsibiltiy of the authorising officer to check whether the application is satisfactory.

Of course it is possible the the applicant puts forward their application for their own nefarious ends and this would hopefully be picked up in the multilayered systems of oversight that any authority has. I can say with some certainty (but no personal knowledge obviously) that there are some police officers that misuse their powers too but should we disband the police force on that basis?

'...they're all just people, all flawed.'

Oh, how sad. But don't worry you'll die soon enough and won't have to suffer other people's flaws any more. Try and have a little more faith in people. There are professionals battling every day to do a good job. I even know a few. And it's not the end of the world now really is it?

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Anonymous Coward

@Secretgeek

"It appears we have a slight mix up here. When I refer to use of RIPA I'm talking about surveillance and obtaining communications information I'm not referring to searches. That's not an area I'm familiar with."

I don't make the distinction, my private data is my private data, regardless of whether you search my office, home, ISP's office, etc. A search is a search, whether it's my locker or my email. Until fairly recently neither did the US, though the current fight over that ISP data test case may change that.

"How do you expect to catch someone in the act of committing a crime if you've told them you're observing them?"

Before? During? What I had in mind was after. Where the person has an expectation of privacy, e.g. private email, phone records.

"Yes, because that's exactly how the Assistant Surveillance Commssioner carries out his inspections. With regards to misuse of powers it is never in my experience the person that authorises the application is never the same person that carries out the surveillance."

Self regulation doesn't work in banking it doesn't work here, the Chinese walls fix nothing. The opposing viewpoint is the one that would know if the request was malicious and they are kept out of the loop. Everyone else simply uses the same info from the same person to make the judgement. 50 people could see the same one-sided viewpoint and all are working with half the info.

"..they're all just people, all flawed. ...Oh, how sad. But don't worry you'll die soon enough and won't have to suffer other people's flaws any more. Try and have a little more faith in people. There are professionals battling every day to do a good job. I even know a few. And it's not the end of the world now really is it?"

Then they have nothing to hide if their work was checked. Indeed the world could see what an amazing job these battling professionals do.... or not.

To me it's simple, you create a system that is capable of being abused, that attracts the sort of people who would abuse such a system and eventually it becomes badly abused. This is the nature of all things. And it makes no difference whether it's an Officer, his ACPO boss, or his the Home Secretary at the top fiddling expenses.

History teaches me there are never any group of people ever who are flawless, and thus democracy lives of dies on the checks and balances, not the personality of the people.

"Try and have a little more faith in people."

I don't do religion. I want checks and balances and a proper system of rights, not a faith based system.

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Anonymous Coward

@secretgeek

"if they're doing it right" <- this is the flaw in your argument.

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Anonymous Coward

Too little Too Late plus.....

Did you know that from this week the Council has the Power to enter your home and search it WITHOUT Police presence if you own them any council tax . Yes sirree, this law was hidden and brought in without any debate whatsoever. Google "Times Online Al Capone law councils" and you will see.

This Govt is finished, finished ,finished, as is Labour Party.

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Joke

But, dash it all really?

What is the point of one having powers if one cannot use such powers or worse still be overseen (and possibly chastised?) in the use of them?

Besides, one wishes that one's unit and department will have much increased budget so one and one and one and ... one might have the lifestyle, comfort, prestige and status hoped for.

It isn't often a new funding streams comes one's one doncha know?

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Grenade

@ AC 10:58

"I don't make the distinction, my private data is my private data, regardless of whether you search my office, home, ISP's office, etc. A search is a search, whether it's my locker or my email."

A few things here. If you can't make the distinction then there's no point debating this with you because we're talking about different things. Just as a bit of RIPA 101, local authorities cannot access your home or your personal emails as part of an investigation the powers simply don't exist for that. And indeed it's not something that I've ever heard of a council doing or attempting to do (and please don't come back with "Of course you haven't because they cover it up." argument). That is of course barring most emails sent and received whilst at work (and that has nothing to do with RIPA because it's not your account). Your locker or your office can in some circumstances be classed as a private space, however these also do not belong to you and any proposd search of that needs to take into consideration the Human Rights Act again not really related to the discussion here of RIPA.

"Self regulation doesn't work in banking it doesn't work here." This is self regulation this is functioning in accordance with the law. It's substantially different. And Irealsie that you're going to come back with something along the lines of "The law's not working. People ignore it. Kill me now etc etc" (Ok maybe not the last bit.) But I'll ask you this question "Almost all human societies are based on laws of various descriptions and complexity. What do you propose to replace the rule of law?" Take a look at Somalia before providing a response. I'm not arguing that RIPA or indeed any law is perfect by any means. What I'm asking you is if the whole system of checks, balances, oversight and law that already exists isn't enough for you, what do you propose to replace it?

"To me it's simple, you create a system that is capable of being abused, that attracts the sort of people who would abuse such a system and eventually it becomes badly abused. This is the nature of all things." & "I don't do religion. I want checks and balances and a proper system of rights, not a faith based system."

All systems are capable of being abused. It is the extent to which that abuse is tolerated that is the issue.

Please don't mistake the fact that I have faith in people generally as a belief in the Flying Sphagetti Monster.

And you do realise that nihilism can be a religion too right? Your apparently concrete belief that everyone (minus yourself I'm assuming) is out to corrupt the system certainly amounts to a faith in the negative.

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Oops

"This is self regulation..."

Should of course read "This ISN'T self regulation..."

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Thumb Up

@Secretgeek

Thanks for providing a balanced and sensible POV.

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