Thanks again to the new MI5 website's What's New section which also brought our attention the publication last week of the of the annual Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner for 2003 to the Prime Minister by the Rt.Hon Sir Swinton Thomas.
Some civil rights activists have doubted the very existence of Sir Swinton Thomas, who keeps a very low public profile, when part of his job should be to re-assure the public and to investigate their complaints of possible abuses. Hiding from the public, with well publicised methods of contacting him (unlike, for rxample the Information Commissioner or the Surveillance Commissioner, who have public websites and contact details)
Nevertheless there are some interesting points in his report e.g.
"14. In my past Reports I have highlighted the possible suspicions that some
members of the public may have that their telephone conversations are being
unlawfully intercepted by the security, intelligence or law enforcement
agencies.Through all aspects of my continuing oversight work I am as satisfied as it is possible to be that deliberate unlawful interception of communicationsof the citizen does not take place. I say "deliberate" because on rare occasions technical errors do occur which may render an interception unlawful in which case the product, if any has been received, from the interception is always destroyed."
"21. In my earlier Annual reports, I highlighted the fact that I had been asked
by the Home Secretary to oversee the interception of communications in
prisons for police and security purposes. Although this function does not fall within my statutory jurisdiction under RIPA, I agreed, in principle, to undertake this role given my experience of, and responsibility for, the interception of communications under that legislation. In paragraph 26 of my
2002 report I detailed the first five establishments that I had visited. Since then
I have re-visited HM Prison Belmarsh and made first time visits to HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, HM Prison Lincoln, HM Prison Woodhill and HM Prison
22. My purpose in re-visiting HM Prison Belmarsh was to establish whether the deficiencies highlighted in my first visit had been addressed. Not all these had been and a report will be sent to the Governor concerning these."
Interception of communications at Belmarsh prison is one of the questions we have about the alleged "mobile phone voice analysis" which seems to be the only "evidence", if this is actually legal in a UK court, against Farid Hilali who is facing extradition to Spain as a suspected Septenber 11th 2001 terrorist plotter, and who is the first person being arraigned under the controversial European Arrest Warrant.
"A significant number of errors and breaches have been reported to me
during the course of the year ? 39 in all."
"33. The Home Office reported, on behalf of the National Technical Assistance
Centre (NTAC), a breach of RIPA by a communications service provider
(CSP), brief details of which are recorded later in this report under the CSPs."
"38. The third case arose out of a technical fault in the computer system.At the
same time that technical work was being undertaken to remedy a fault in the
database, a GCHQ analyst made an entry on the database for a specific action
to be carried out. Unfortunately the technical work had a subsequent adverse
effect on the accuracy on the working of the database. I understand that
technical faults of the kind that occurred are extremely rare and it was very
unfortunate that it occurred at the same time as the analyst making an entry.
This coincidence of events is very unlikely to happen again."
"48. The second error occurred when a new computer system installed in
HMCE to manage its warrantry processes mistakenly put a case identifier on a
new warrant that had been previously applied to a cancelled warrant. HMCE
have been in contact with the company who developed the software for
managing their warrantry and has asked them to build a safeguard so that, in
future, case identifiers cannot be placed onto cancelled warrants."
"54. The first, reported by the Home Office, concerns a CSP who, when testing
its new data interception capability, intercepted an e-mail account owned by
the National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC). Whilst this was an
acceptable and necessary technical activity agreed with NTAC, part of the
equipment failed to function correctly during the test. The consequence of the
failure left the account open to access from a non-NTAC user. A detailed
technical solution was identified and implemented with the material received
by NTAC during the testing having been destroyed."
NTAC was set up after the passing of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and was originally called GTAC, the Government Technical Assistance Centre, in 1999, but the name was changed when the then Assistant Chief Constable of Kent Ian Humphrey was appointed to lead it.
Supposedly housed in secure facilities in Thames House, the headquarters of MI5 it is meant to provides law enforcement agencies with expert support, decrypting intercepted internet and e-mail material. Why GCHQ does not do this already is evidence of some sort of budgetary turf war between the various agencies.
There was talk of 'Black Box' recorders to be placed in every ISP and Telecomms company for the real-time snooping on internet data traffic, but there has been an ongoing dispute with industry over who pays for this, and over the technical feasability of handling the immense amounts of data, which have not really been resolved by the Technical Advisory Board which is an "advisory non-departmental public body (NDPB)." i.e. what used to be called a Quango (a Quasi Non-Governmental Organization).
However RIPA part III, which deals with the encryption keys etc. has not yet been brought into force, and there is no clear Code of Practice which has been agreed with industry, so either NTAC is operating illegally, or it is doing something else.
The situation is similar with the so called voluntary Data Retention Scheme, under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, another ill thought out Home Office initiative, which they seem to be unwilling to pay for, yet which has massive privacy implications for the vast majority of innocent people.
Warrants (a) in force, under the Regulation of Investigatory
|The total number of RIPA modifications from 01/01/2003 - 31/12/03 =2525|
|The total number of RIPA modifications from 01/01/2003 - 31/12/03 =319|
|NB: Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 there is no longer|
a breakdown of the figures between Telecommunications and Letters]