UK interception law consultation excludes civil groups

Non-profit groups have protested over being shut out of a Home Office consultation around Ripa, which is to be brought in line with European data protection laws

The Home Office will not meet with civil society groups during its consultation on the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, according to a Home Office letter published on a privacy campaign group's website.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) regulates the functions public bodies use to carry out the surveillance, investigation and interception of communications, particularly those over the internet. Six civil society campaign organisations had written to the security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones on Thursday, asking to be given the same level of access to the Ripa consultation as is being given to industry groups, such as ISPs.

The letter, which also asked for the period of consultation to be extended and for the Home Office to advertise the consultation website, was signed by representatives of the Open Rights Group, Privacy International, No2ID, ARCHRights, Justice and GeneWatch. On Friday the Home Office's Ripa team replied and the response was published on the Open Rights Group's website.

"In the limited time we have we are focusing our face-to-face engagement on those parties to whom we sent our consultation directly, which does not include civil society groups," the response read.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, told ZDNet UK on Monday that the Home Office was "not thinking about the fact that every ISP customer, every citizen in the UK who uses an ISP or mobile phone, has a right to not have their communications intercepted, has their rights violated if that takes place and needs to have the ability to enforce those rights".

The Ripa consultation is being held as a consequence of the European Commission's referral of the UK government to the European Court of Justice over poor implementation of European data protection laws.

The consultation is mainly focused on bringing Ripa into line with European data laws. The act says that interception of communications is permissible if the entity performing the interception has "reasonable grounds" to believe that consent has been given, but European data law states that consent must be "freely given, specific and informed".

Another focus is to better clarify how Ripa deals with the intentional interception of communications without consent. Killock said that people should use the consultation period to write in and push for "strong meaningful penalties and the potential for police investigation" in cases where organisations, such as ISPs, intentionally intercepted communications without the communicator's consent.

The Home Office response stated that the deadline of the consultation had been extended from 7 December to 17 December. It also highlighted that the consultation site has been clearly signposted since 15 November. Prior to that, "you had to search for it", a Home Office spokeswoman told ZDNet UK.

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