The most open of the independent Commissioners who are empowered to supervise and audit some of the aspects of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner has published his Annual Report 2006 - 2007 (.pdf)
This is Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Rose's first such report, since he took over from Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew Leggatt, as Chief Surveillance Commissioner, overseeing Intrusive Surveillance, Directed Surveillance and the use of Confidential Human Informants, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and the corresponding the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, but also under the Police Act 1997. He would also supervise some access to Encryption Keys or decrypted information, but RIPA Part III is not still not yet in force, but which is due to be brought into force on 1st October 2007.
Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Rose mentions that Police authorities and others are continuing to try to evade the self-imposed bureaucracy which they surround their own, often repetitive procedures, for handling Confidential Human Informants, by the expedient of simply not registering them as such, but calling them "tasked witnesses" etc.
As last year and before, drug investigations form the vast majority of authorisations for interference with property and intrusive surveillance, although, Sir Christopher notes
"There has been a significant increase in law
enforcement agencies requiring a property interference authorisation for investigation into kidnapping, up 52% on last year."
Again, technology seems to be outstripping the procedures and legislation:
"11.3 Improvements in technology continue to enhance the capability of those charged with the responsibility of tackling crime. But, as indicated in last year’s report, the speed of change often surpasses the limitations of current legislation. With regard to Automatic Number Plate Recognition, my position is the same as that of my predecessor and I adhere to the view that legislation is necessary to resolve some issues arising from enhanced technological capability."
Effectively the Surveillance Commissioners (all of them former High Court Judges or equivalents) all agreed last year that Mass Surveillance uses of Automatic Number Plate Recognition is not compatible with the current law.
See our next posting on the London Congestion Charge data being handed over in real time , in bulk, to the Metropolitan Police for "anti-terrorism" purposes.
"11.4 Other capabilities, such as mobile DNA sampling, should not be used covertly without proper authority and authorising officers must be diligent to ensure that applicants include the concise details of their intended activity and that RIPA documentation accurately records what has been authorised."
Which suggests that there have been times when this technology has been used improperly.
Law enforcement agencies appear to have reduced the number of Directed Surveillance requests (e.g. the typical "stakeout" featured on television) , but not because they are snooping less:
"I am concerned to learn that the reduction in use of these powers is due, in part, to a lack of investment by some law enforcement agencies in training their officers in RIPA awareness and, in part, to the use of alternative policing
methods where a directed surveillance authorisation is not deemed"
Other public authorities (e.g. Local Government Trading Standards etc.) seem to have nearly doubled the number of Directed Surveillance authorisations since last year.
Sir Christopher praises the higher standards as a result of the establishment of "Covert Authorities Bureaux (CAB) to manage and oversee authorisations".
Incredibly, covert snooping seems to be being used for noise pollution enforcement, even when it is not really necessary:
10.4 Covert activity is still most often used by departments that deal with trading standards and with anti-social behaviour and by those that administer benefits. But there has been an increase in the use of covert activity related to noise monitoring. I have had to contradict advice from others which oversimplifies the relevant considerations and unwisely encourages some forms of activity without appropriate authorisation. In some cases, overt notification that monitoring is likely to take place would be more proportionate and render authorisation unnecessary.
Another area of an extension of surveillance technology being pushed for through bureaucratic function creep, has been noted by Sir Christopher:
"11.2 I have been informed that some authorities have made enquiries with their local police force regarding the acquisition of tracking technology. This is clearly a capability that local authorities are not entitled to use because it would entail property interference and, in some cases, may result in intrusive surveillance.
I will censure any local authority attempting to use the protection of RIPA for such activity"
Overall the report is similar to last year's, and the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners has, yet again put the other RIPA Commissioners, the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Intelligence Services Commissioner, to shame, by publishing the report promptly on their website.