The Annual Report for 2006 of the Interception of Communications Commissioner Rt.Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy is very bland, and lacking in detail, but there is an area of concern, by omission - the safeguards, if any, when tracking or monitoring smuggled mobile phones in Prisons.
About half of all the site visits and re-visits (about 120) by Sir Paul Kennedy and his team of 6 Inspectors appear to be to Prisons.
However, technically, Sir Paul has no legal powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to supervise the Interception of postal or electronic communications in Prisons.
26. I have, at the request of the Home Secretary, continued in a non-statutory role, the oversight of the interception of communications in prisons, which was undertaken by my predecessor.
Perhaps the situation has not yet arisen, but, in theory, the management or staff of a privatised Prison or Detention Centre (or even a state run one) could , perfectly legally, refuse to cooperate with Sir Paul and his Inspectors, perhaps on the grounds of cost or perhaps when working to rule during a pay dispute, especially if they are not under the threat of a forthcoming contract renewal.
There is nothing wrong in principle with Sir Paul and his team inspecting the interception regimes in Prisons, but this really should be done on a proper statutory basis, and, given the large number of visits involved, some money should be allocated from the Ministry of Justice who have now been lumbered with responsibility for Prisons.
Since the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice love to tinker with Legislation, why can they not bring Prisons and Immigration Detentions Centres etc. under the legal scrutiny of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ?
Sir Paul obliquely hints that all is not well in the Prison Service:
Interception of communications (mail and telephone communications) in prisons is permitted, and in many cases is mandatory, under the Prison Act 1952, and the National Security Framework (NSF). Interception is mandatory primarily in the case of Category A prisoners, and prisoners who have been convicted of sexual or harassment offences, and continue to present a risk to the public. So far as Category A prisoners are concerned, this presents a problem in many prisons, because they do not have the resources to monitor all the telephone communications. The same can apply to those convicted of sexual or harassment offences, particularly if they are gathered together in one prison.
If there are not sufficient resources to monitor the expensive Prison Service landline phone conversations of Category A prisoners and "those convicted of sexual or harassment offences", then something is seriously wrong.
Sir Paul Kennedy and his Inspectors apparently check:
28. There are three primary areas of inspection:
- the methods utilised for the interception of telephone and postal communications to ensure that the interception is being carried out lawfully;
- a physical inspection of the interception of telephone communications and the equipment utilised;
- a physical inspection of the arrangements for the interception of postal communications.
However, that is not the whole picture.
This needs to be seen in the context of literally thousands of mobile phones which are being smuggled into Prisons each years (See our previous blog article Thousands of Mobile Phones seized in UK Prisons - evidence of corruption ?
What safeguards are there which prevent the Prison Service or Private Sector staff from accidentally or deliberately snooping on the mobile phones belonging to innocent members of the public in the electronic vicinity of a Prison (an area which could stretch to tens of kilometres around a Prison sited in the countryside), when they are attempting to track or intercept illegal mobile phones within a Prison, or to track the Communications Traffic Data of accomplices and smugglers on the outside ?
We strongly suspect that there are no effective safeguards in place at all.
There is no mention the Report of any inspections of Secure Mental Hospital units, which must have similar problems.