Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Another British surveillance horror-story

The British government tells its people that their surveillance state - cameras everywhere, internet traffic logged, phone call data available without judicial oversight - is there to stop terrorists and keep them safe. What it means in practice is police using anti-terror surveillance powers in employment disputes:

Britain’s most scandal-hit police force faces a slew of legal claims after being accused of using controversial anti-terrorism powers to snoop on officers blowing the whistle on racism.

Cleveland constabulary faces claims that it secretly obtained details from confidential emails between Asian officers and their representatives and solicitors to defend against employment cases brought against the force.


The Independent can reveal emails from [a police officer who complained about racism] were part of a cache of documents that Cleveland Police secretly sought to recover from his senior ethnic minority colleague using the Ripa laws during a criminal investigation into unauthorised leaks from the force. The senior officer has since left the force and is preparing his own legal claim.

The force also used Ripa, which was passed in 2000 to help investigate terrorism and serious crimes, to check phone data of police officers, a solicitor and journalists over a five-month period, according to documents secured by one of the targets of the inquiry.

This is simply an outright abuse of power. There is no other way to describe it. These powers are not there to allow police to punish their critics, spy on those complaining about them, or win employment disputes over intolerable police conduct. But they exist, and so that is how they are used. And it raises an obvious question: what other police forces are doing this? After all, its not as if the London Met has been shy about using undercover officers to spy on their critics...

This is why there needs to be judicial oversight for surveillance: to prevent the police abusing powers for their own purposes. But as we've seen in New Zealand, even that is an inadequate safeguard: the police will mislead judges to get what they want, secure in the knowledge that they will never face sanctions for doing so.