Tories pledge to curb abuse of surveillance powers

Summary:The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act needs to be cleaned up to prevent abuse by local authorities, a Conservative peer has said

An incoming Conservative government would curb the abuse of powers granted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, according to a Tory peer.

Shadow security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) needs to be addressed to stop the misuse of anti-terrorist powers by local authorities.

"We will clean up RIPA," said Neville-Jones. "Look at the number of authorities who have access to information and have powers to investigate what you put in your dustbins and that your children are going to school in the right catchment area. These are powers under RIPA. Are they desirable? Certainly not."

Neville-Jones said that the kinds of agencies that would be permitted access to data, and what information they would be allowed to keep, would be strictly controlled.

"We've gone very quickly from paper records that are not easily transferable to electronic data," said Neville-Jones. "Now the issue is the privacy of individuals."

The peer said that there was a "catch-up job" to be done, as currently "the powers of the state are greater than the controls over it to prevent the abuse of power". Specific measures would include a revision of RIPA legislation, plus a strengthening of the independent oversight by the surveillance commissioner of the use of powers by local authorities.

The Home Office told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that RIPA itself did not need amending, but that it needed to ensure that RIPA powers were not abused.

"We need to ensure RIPA powers are used appropriately and are not undermined," said a Home Office spokesperson. "We welcomed the chairman of the Local Government Association's recent letter to local authorities, reminding them of the need to consider necessity and proportionality when they carry out surveillance."

The spokesperson added that a review is currently being undertaken of the different public authorities that have access to RIPA powers. On completion, the government will list those that can use these powers and for what purposes. The government is also revising surveillance guidelines.

"We are revising the statutory codes of practice on covert surveillance and covert human-intelligence sources," said the spokesperson. "We will continue to work with key partners, including local authorities and the police, to improve appropriate training, guidance and understanding."

Topics: Security

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Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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