The latest Big Brother Watch report, A legacy of surveillance , looks at how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has been used by both local and public authorities in recent years.
A decade on and more than three million authorisations later, Big Brother Watch research found how there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how and why the powers are being used — and a clear need for the Coalition to go further to protect civil liberties.
While the Coalition has changed the law to require local authorities to seek a magistrates warrant for RIPA surveillance and only to use it for serious crimes, this is not the end of the matter.
The issue is of course that councils and public authorities don’t have to say what they are up to, why, how often and even whether they have convicted anyone as a result. It takes groups like Big Brother Watch to dig up the figures — the next step is for the Government to take action and make this data publicly reported.
Secondly, the Coalition has started down the right path in limiting how councils can use these powers. Now it’s time for a full and frank review of how RIPA functions — before the landscape is complicated even further with any more surveillance legislation that fiddles with the law in an effort to patch up existing failings.
Finally, judicial authorisation of surveillance should be the norm, not the exception.