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Councils caught in emergency snooping law

11/07/14

Local authorities face further curbs to their controversial powers to snoop on phone and internet records, under new "emergency" laws. And many other public bodies - from port police to minor government departments - will lose all their rights to access communication data, it was announced.

The crackdown will come in legislation, to be rushed through Parliament next week, to ensure the police and security services can continue to access the records.

David Cameron said urgent action was needed to protect the public from "criminals and terrorists" after the European Court of Justice struck down existing powers.

The prime minister called a hurried press conference to announce he had secured the backing of both the Liberal Democrats and Labour for the highly unusual move.

But the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill will also "restrict the number of public bodies that are able to approach phone and internet companies and ask for communications data".

No.10 explained: "Some bodies will lose their powers to access data altogether, while local authorities will be required to go through a single central authority who will make the request on their behalf".

That central authority will be the National Anti-Fraud Network (NAFN), which is already used by many councils to assess applications to trace debtors, obtain legal records and for internal investigations.

Officials at the Home Office were keen to stress that councils would "retain powers to acquire communications data under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)". However, they would now be required to put applications through NAFN, which boasted "trained guardians and gatekeepers for communications data acquisition".

An official said: "They are expert in what data is available from communications companies and how law enforcement queries can be answered by information held by industry. This bill will ensure all local authorities utilise NAFN when requesting communications data and that they will benefit from the high level of service that the organisation provides."

Meanwhile, the bodies set to lose all rights to access phone and internet records are:

* Civil Nuclear Constabulary

* Port of Liverpool Police

* Port of Dover Police

* Royal Mail

* Department for business, innovation and skills (BIS)

* Department for environment and rural affairs (DEFRA)

* Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Northern Ireland)

* Environment Agency

* Scottish Environment Protection Agency

* Department of Environment (Northern Ireland)

* Food Standards Agency

* Pensions Regulator

* Charity Commission

Last year, a report by Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, found that 132 councils had used Ripa in the past 12 months. That level of use came despite previous curbs which require town halls to gain the approval of a magistrate before undertaking any "covet techniques".

 

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