Monday, 1 June 2015

Police access private emails, phone calls and text messages

by Sunil Patel

UK police forces have made over 700,000 applications for access to private communications, with 96 percent of all requests being approved, according to new data from a civil liberties and privacy pressure group.

On average, there was one request every two minutes over a three-year period and total of 244,412 requests every year.

Despite claims police's access to communications data is decreasing, 26 Police forces have increased the number of requests with only 11 showing a reduction in the number enquiries.

The Metropolitan Police service topped the table with 177,287 requests with the Thames Valley Police making the least with 17,562 inquiries, according to figures published by Big Brother Watch (BBW).

The Essex Police force had the highest number of refusals at 28 percent and the Northamptonshire force the fewest rejections at 4 percent from the period between 1st January 2012 and 31st December 2014.

The communications data includes details of who, where and when of any text, email, phone call or web search.

The surveillance watchdog has called for greater transparency, better safeguards and a clearer application process in the access of communications data.

Some of BBW's recommendations are listed below

  • Police forces should be required to publish transparency reports detailing how requests are approved, the number of individuals affected and the type of crime
  • Proof that data of more than 6 months old is regularly used in order to establish a proportionate approach to data retention
  • A clear, standardised procedure for the access of Communications Data, which all police forces, telecommunications and internet service providers must adhere to.
In the Queen's speech last week, the Conservatives announced the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would give the police greater power to monitor internet and phone use.

This would replace the communications data bill which has been  infamously dubbed the so-called 'snoopers charter'.

Renate Samson, Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, said: “We have yet to see real evidence that there is a gap in the capability of law enforcement or the agencies’ ability to gain access to our communications data.

“We are also yet to see any concrete evidence that access to communications data has and indeed will, make the country safer.  The only evidence we have is of numerous failures to make effective use of the data already available.

“Any new draft legislation must acknowledge that the bigger the haystacks the harder it will be to find the needles.“

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