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British civil servants misused RIPA to spy on public

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:57 pm on 6 March, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
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The Guardian recently reported on the misuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act by civil servants:

Controversial surveillance powers employed to fight terrorism and combat crime have been misused by civil servants in undercover “spying” operations that breach official guidelines, the Guardian has learned.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show some government departments and agencies have used these powers incorrectly or without proper controls. They also show the official government watchdog set up to monitor the use of such clandestine techniques criticised the departments for their behaviour.

The watchdog twice threatened to inform Gordon Brown about the serious abuses of powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The watchdog highlighted how:

  • Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) did not have proper authorisation when they went undercover posing as anglers to glean information about imported fish;
  • A manager responsible for authorising surveillance at the NHS anti-fraud agency routinely gave officials “carte blanche” in surveillance operations;
  • Tracking devices were attached to vehicles in a bid to monitor the disposal of waste, after the Environment Agency received apparently incorrect advice from the Home Office
  • Potential prosecutions were jeopardised because those conducting the surveillance operations were not properly trained and had not followed procedures
  • A large array of public bodies are also using surveillance powers, including the Charity Commission, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the BBC.

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