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RIPA – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 that governs how public bodies do covert surveillance, whether by CCTV or of phones – needs an overhaul, according to the Home Affairs select committee of MPs.
The Leicester Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Committee said: “RIPA is not fit for purpose. We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation. Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.
“The recording of information under RIPA is lamentably poor, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised, without proper monitoring of what is being destroyed and what is being retained. We are concerned that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of RIPA allows investigating authorities to engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy, with inadequate oversight.
“The Home Office has failed to publish its review within its own timetable, and not for the first time. It should hold a full public consultation on an amended RIPA Code of Practice, and any updated advice should contain special provisions for dealing with privileged information, such as journalistic material and material subject to legal privilege. It is vital that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly.”
In a report, the committee recommended that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly. MPs pointed to how the communications data code of practice was drafted eight years ago and, unlike the interception or the surveillance code which were recently updated, contains no advice on dealing with professions that handle privileged information, nor on the use of confidential help-lines.
In October the Home Secretary announced that the Home Office was conducting a review of the use of RIPA in response to concerns over its use by police to access journalists’ phone records. The Government has stated that a revised code will be published in draft and will be subject to public consultation.