Is SOCA so useless, that HM Revenue & Customs really needs "bugging and phone-tap powers" ?

| | Comments (10)

The well informed, or well briefed or leaked to, David Leppard in the Sunday Times has a story about Serious Organised Crime investigations, which does not bother to mention the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)

The Sunday Times January 07, 2007

Taxman to get bugging and phone-tap powers

David Leppard

TAX inspectors are to be given new powers allowing them to tap taxpayers' telephones and plant bugs inside their homes and offices.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) says its inspectors need such covert surveillance to tackle the growing threat from organised and white-collar crime.

SOCA started to be set up two and a half years ago, and became fully operational in April 2006. It specifically combined the investigative branch of what was then Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, with the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and is supposed to be targeting Serious Organised crime, including money laundering etc.

It has all the possible powers of secret surveillance of every sort permitted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 e.g. intrusive planting of electronic bugging devices in premises (which may involve actually breaking into them in secret), tracking devices in vehicles, interception of phone calls, emails, internet access, letter and parcel post, communications traffic data etc, as well as powers of search, arrest, and even financial assets seizure via the Assets Recovery Agency.

What possible excuse is there for the renamed, merged Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue, to demand such powers for tax inspectors, under the pretext of tackling "organised crime gangs" ?

HMRC should be supplying SOCA with any necessary tax records, after appropriate permission has been sought and authorised, and they should leave the investigation of such gangs to SOCA, who are probably also investigating the very same people for drugs smuggling or human trafficking crimes etc.

If HMRC and SOCA are not working together efficiently, then senior heads need to roll.

If the tax evasion investigation is not serious enough to justify the involvement of SOCA, then it is not serious enough to justify intrusive surveillance and electronic or postal interception either.

Under RIPA section 81 General interpretation, the tests are:

(a) that the offence or one of the offences that is or would be constituted by the conduct is an offence for which a person who has attained the age of twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more;

(b) that the conduct involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose.

[...]

A spokesman for HMRC said giving tax inspectors the power to tap phones and plant bugs was a rational move after the merger of Customs and the Inland Revenue in 2005.

The union of the two organisations followed a series of bungled investigations in which Customs and Excise officers were accused in court of lying and corruption.

The spokesman said the former Customs and Excise agency had retained its powers to conduct so-called "intrusive surveillance" after the merger and it made sense to extend them to the Inland Revenue part of the new organisation.

"Some of the perpetrators can be caught using existing powers. But if criminals are to be caught and prosecuted, access is needed occasionally and under appropriate safeguards to more intrusive techniques. These powers would only apply to the most serious criminal offences."

He cited the example of organised crime gangs seeking to defraud the tax credit system,

Given that in the Tax Credits scandal, there was corruption of civil servants within the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions, it is utterly inappropriate for HM Revenue and Customs to be investigating themselves.

Surely any such investigation in the future should be handled by SOCA ?

Is it really conceivable that such organised gangs would not also be engaged in other criminal activities within the remit of SOCA ?

Gordon Brown could eliminate any such crime in the future, by simplifying the horrendously complicated bureaucratic red tape of such schemes as Tax Credits, which he has inflicted on the public and on his low level civil servants.

while any warrants for phone taps would have to be signed by a minister or a senior government official.

Surely HMRC are not proposing that they be given such interception powers without, the signature of the Home Secretary or, exceptionally and temporarily, a senior official, under RIPA ? That would be more power than the Police, SOCA, MI5, MI6, GCHQ or the Military ! Or is this just an ambiguously worded paragraph ?

The move will be seen as further evidence of a more aggressive approach towards tax evaders. Last year, it emerged that tax inspectors would be given powers to make arrests and take fingerprints without police officers being present.

[...]

Where are they going to store these fingerprints ? On the Police National Computer ? Or are they going to create their own parallel system, at vast expense ?

What happens when some of these tax evading gangs are found to be armed with guns or knives ? Will the tax inspectors demand to have their own firearms units ?

Why not just get the Police to arrest people, if and when sufficient evidence has been obtained ?

Is SOCA really not tackling organised crime gangs, like they are meant to be doing , or is this bureaucratic empire building by the Revenue and the Treasury ?

Should this alleged extension of HMRC and therefore Treasury powers also be viewed in the context of the recent grab of almost unlimited financial snooping powers by Gordon Brown's Treasury, supposedly to counteract "terrorist finance" ?

It is not unusual in a Police State, for different branches of Government to create their own "loyal" teams of investigators, snoopers, informers and spies etc., who often devote a large part of their time to snooping on rival agencies and political allies or rivals.

Is this the totalitarian path down which Gordon Brown is heading ?


10 Comments

Yes, it is the path.

"The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves." -William Hazlitt

A public consultation regarding these increased powers for the Revenue closed in November 2006:

HM Revenue and Customs and the Taxpayer:
Modernising Powers, Deterrents and Safeguards
Criminal Investigation Powers
A Technical Consultation Document

http://www.statewatch.org/news/2006/aug/uk-tax-customs-new-powers-consultation.pdf

[thanks to Gareth on this NO2ID discussion forum thread]

The tax man bugging your phone and reading your emails does sound incredibly intrusive. I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that we do seem to be slowly moving towards a soviet-style all powerful state, where everyone is under perpetual surveillance in case they might say or do anything politically incorrect. Under the soviet regime even a trivial act, such as writing a poem, could be considered a crime against the state.

The Times now has an article citing several sources, some anonymous and others on the record, who are critical of the performance of SOCA.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2563753_1,00.html

That is still no excuse for giving extra RIPA snooping powers to the tax inspectors.

HM Customs (forerunner to HMRC)has had all these powers for many many years

Your comments regarding SOCA's abilies + remit how little you understand of this arena

@ Matt - perhaps you would care to explain where, in your view, we are wrong about the abilities and remit of SOCA ?

HMRC do not have the same function and duties as the old HM Customs & Excise any more. Therefore they should not retain the same vast powers of electronic intercepts and intrusive surveillance.

Their serious organised crime investigation department was moved over to SOCA, following several disastrous high profile court cases.

HMRC should not seek to extend their RIPA snooping powers, beyond, say, requests for Communications Traffic Data e.g. telephone subscriber details.

As requested ;

HMRC do retain the same functions and duties of HMCE ie detection of drugs firearms, contraband etc , but with those added of the IR. They retain the ability to prosecute all such offences and currently prosecute far more drug smugglers than SOCA*.
SOCA was created to attack the most serious crime ( not all)(though in reality this is means only drugs and money laundering), to date how many SOCA prosections have you heard of ?*.
SOCA is in complete disarray , it is grossly overspent with little to show for it ; large numbers of its officers are seeking to return to their previous organisations (other than NCIS who have nowhere to go).

How to your propose to teach SOCA officers the complexities of Direct Taxation?

Lander has stated as an excuse that SOCA is a Marathon not a sprint ; well crime is already off the blocks and happily leading the race ; if and when SOCA catch up how much drugs will have been trafficked, people smuggled and money laundered by that time.?
My comment regarding niavity relates to the fact as you may established that I have direct access to officerS of both organisations + hands on experience in these fields
Part of the compliment of "Their (HMRC)serious organised crime investigation department" was moved over to SOCA; most of it DID NOT and remains in effect to day.tackling Major Fraud ( running into hundreds of millions of pounds), Arms trafficking , Cigarette smuggling, Counter proliferation and Money laudering.

You correctly point out that a series of trials relating to the handling of an informant in an alcohol diversion case did fail badly.Your comment regarding why HMCE staff transferred to SOCA is wrong as those arenas that caused the problems ( Alcohol diversion Fraud investigation) remain within HMRC.

RIPA part 1 covers interception of comms and warrants are signed by the Home Sec. HMRC do not need to extend their powers under RIPA that already have them , what I presume you refer to is the direct Tax (In. Rev) side of HMRC ? Which was not covered under Ripa part1.

In recent years, all new Law Enforcement bodies artifically created, failed and have gone ie NDIU,NCIS, ARA, NCS. All where trumpeted as the British FBI , and were to smash serious crime , does this sound familiar ?

Spot on, Matt, as one operator to another.

Re my previous comment - I apologise I misread the names - It was clearly Matt Williams who spoke perfect sense re these covert powers issues.

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Recent Comments

  • ACIO: Re my previous comment - I apologise I misread the read more
  • gary bryant: Spot on, Matt, as one operator to another. read more
  • Matt Williams: As requested ; HMRC do retain the same functions and read more
  • wtwu: @ Matt - perhaps you would care to explain where, read more
  • Matt: HM Customs (forerunner to HMRC)has had all these powers for read more
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  • wtwu: A public consultation regarding these increased powers for the Revenue read more
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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

Intelligence and Security Committee - the supposedly independent Parliamentary watchdog which issues an annual, heavily censored Report every year or so. Currently chaired by the Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Why should either the intelligence agencies or the public trust this committee, when the untrustworthy ex-Labour Minister Hazel Blears is a member ?

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

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Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

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Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

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Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

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Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

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National Crime Agency - the replacement for the Serious Organised Crime Agency

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Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

Foreign Spies / Intelliegence Agencies in the UK

It is not just the UK government which tries to snoop on British companies, organisations and individuals, the rest of the world is constantly trying to do the same, regardless of the mixed efforts of our own UK Intelligence Agencies who are paid to supposedly protect us from them.

For no good reason, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only keeps the current version of the London Diplomatic List of accredited Diplomats (including some Foreign Intelligence Agency operatives) online.

Presumably every mainstream media organisation, intelligence agency, serious organised crime or terrorist gang keeps historical copies, so here are some older versions of the London Diplomatic List, for the benefit of web search engine queries, for those people who do not want their visits to appear in the FCO web server logfiles or those whose censored internet feeds block access to UK Government websites.

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

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Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

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Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

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Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV

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I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !

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Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign

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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."

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Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

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WhistleblowersUK.org - Fighting for justice for whistleblowers