A report published yesterday by the human rights organisation Justice revealed that three million snooping operations had been carried out into the life of Britons since 2000. These included phone tapping and concealing cameras in bins to observe families’ movements.
The report, Freedom from Suspicion, says that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) has made surveillance of the public a common practise. Moreover, the author of the report, barrister Eric Metcalfe, has said that the Act’s safeguards are insufficient and need to be updated.
The Act sought to regulate surveillance by public bodies, but the report states, “Ripa has not only failed to check a great deal of plainly excessive surveillance by public bodies over the last decade but, in many cases, inadvertently encouraged it”.
The report directs particular criticism to the complaints body set up under the Act, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).
“It cannot sensibly be said that the procedures of the IPT – in which there is no right to a hearing, no right to disclosure of relevant evidence, no right to know let alone cross-examine the testimony of adverse witnesses, and no right to any kind of reasons – are fair, at least without making a mockery of the very concept of procedural fairness.
“But the broader problem is that, even if the tribunal somehow managed to adopt a procedure that was entirely fair, the secret nature of surveillance powers would still mean that it would continue to receive a large number of complaints from people whose suspicions proved to be groundless, while most of those people who were the subject of genuinely unnecessary surveillance would remain quietly oblivious to that fact.”
Angela Patrick, Justice’s director of human rights policy, said that reform is needed. “Tinkering around the edges of Ripa is no longer enough. The time has come for parliament to undertake root-and-branch reform of Britain’s surveillance powers and provide genuinely effective safeguards against abuse”.
The Government has yet to comment. Surveillance methods, which were originally put in place to combat terrorism, risk being abused in a manner which will invade privacy and amount to a serious human rights breach. CCTV and similar surveillance equipments must be properly regulated so that their original purpose, preventing and combating crime, does not become their secondary role.
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