Days after it had been spun and leaked to the mainstream media, the Home Office has finally published the One Step Ahead: A 21st Century Strategy to Defeat Organised Criminals White Paper consultation document.
We were hoping for clarification about the planned use of Intercepts, but all we got was this:
6.2.2 Evidential use of intercept material
Under the Regulation of Investigatory Forces Act 2000, the
Presumably the Home Office authors actually mean the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
What, if anything, does this Freudian slip reveal about how they think about these issues ?
evidential use of intercept material in court proceedings is not permitted in the UK. This is unusual internationally. The prohibition on evidential use is currently subject to a Home Office led review, commissioned by the Prime Minister.
Ministers fully recognise the importance of ensuring that a decision about whether or not to change the law is based on evidence that the benefits of doing so must clearly outweigh the risks. The main arguments for and against are clear. On the one hand, the evidential use of intercept may hold out the prospect of prosecutions in some cases where they would not otherwise have
been possible, and might encourage earlier guilty pleas. On the other hand, there is a concern that the evidential use of intercept would reveal capabilities which could undermine the effectiveness of intercept and damage the co-operation between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies in tackling and preventing terrorism and serious crime.
It is important to get this right. Work underway involves devising and testing a model for using intercept evidentially that is compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. Experience of what works in other jurisdictions, the implications of developing technology and resource implications are also being assessed.
The Home Office led review is expected to conclude by June 2004. If Government were satisfied that adequate safeguards can be designed to prevent the disclosure of sensitive capabilities, and that the review had concluded that the benefits of this move would clearly outweigh the costs, then it would bring forward legislation to allow the evidential use of intercept material."
This White paper does not reveal any more actual detail about what the Government is proposing to do about the issues of electronic surveillance and its admissability in court, than the previous Consultation Document on Counter Terrorism Powers one does.
It is all very well to calll for input from interested parties and the public to these consultations, but to ask opponents of the political kites being flown to argue as Devil's Advocates against the entire spectrum of possible detailed policies which the Home Office might come up with, makes a mockery of the whole process.
These two consultation documents are even vaguer and more misleading than the notorious Entitlement Cards consultation document, which although full of technical, civil liberties and budget estimate faux pas at least gave a couple of possible options, and some brief information on practices in other countries.
There is not even this level of background detail in these so called consultation documents with respect to Electronic Surveillance.
If, as David Blunkett claims, there is an internal disagreement between various unnamed security agencies as to whether or not to try to make use of phone or email intercepts as evidence in court, and that he himself has changed his mind over the issue, why are the pros and cons not spelt out in this Consultation Whitepaper ?
The sort of things that should have been elaborated on in this White Paper include:
- What was the effect of the court trial in the USA which revealed that Osama bin Laden's satellite phone had been routinely intercepted, even revealing the actual phone number in public ?
- What is the current state of digital voice editing and voice morphing technology, which even 5 years ago could be used to make convincing fake recordings of short phrases or sentences, in real time, from as little as ten minutes of sampled speech.
- What possible forensic examinations of any alleged Intercept "evidence" would be required to prove that it had not been so edited or tampered with ?
- Is there a role for Digital Signatures and Digital Timestamps from an independent Government Public Key Infrastructure which would assist in the presentation of untampered Phone or Email Intercept evidsence in court ?
- What about encrypted voice or data communications and the obscure role of the National Technical Assistance Centre is actually up to without the legal basis of the enacment of RIPA part 3 powers it was intended to serve.
- What about Data Retention or Data Preservation , especially in the light of the vague talk about Communications Data Retention in the European Union Declaration on Combating Terrorism agreed last week.
- How much will these various options cost the taxpayer ?
- What financial and competitive burden will these measures place on the private sector telecommunications and internet industries ?
Is it worth bothering with making a formal contribution to either of these Consultations, given the way in which the Entitlement/ID Cards consultation was handled and spun by the Home Office ?