Two people wrongly detained after communications interception errors

For the last decade and more, the publication of the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Annual Reports has gone largely unremarked, even when they have contained news of copious errors or news (by omission) of a Commissioner not investigating evidence of widespread breaking of the rules he is meant to oversee (see my previous posts).

This year, however, with the Draft Communications Bill hanging over us and given a helping hand by a deft MP, it is rather different, as this sampling of coverage shows:

Two wrongfully arrested after comms data blunders

Flawed communications data led to two people being wrongfully arrested last year, according to a government report.

The report from the Interception of Communications Commissioner showed there were 494,078 requests for communications data in 2011, down 11% from the year before. Those led to 895 errors, up from 640 the year before. [PC Pro]

Rachel Robinson, of the campaign group Liberty, said: “This report shows the dangers of government plans to make phone and internet companies hold even more records on the communication and browsing habits of the whole population. The scale of surveillance revealed is alarming, but worse still is that hundreds of errors subjected the wrong people to targeted surveillance by public authorities.

“That two innocent people were wrongly detained and accused of crimes as a result of these blunders should make the government think again about turning us into a nation of suspects rather than citizens.” [The Guardian]

Almost 1,000 innocent people have been wrongly spied on by the police, security services and town halls because of errors in “snooping” requests.

The figures will renew concerns over the Government plans to expand the amount of phone, email and internet information law enforcement and intelligence agencies can access.

Overall, police, security services and other public bodies made 494,078 requests to access data last year – the equivalent of 1,350 a day. [Daily Telegraph]

What has not changed is the continuing tone of complacency through much of the report. Digging around in the numbers reveals, for example, that the 43 visits to inspect law enforcement agencies resulted in 11 recommendations being issued to them in order to deal with “serious non-compliance”. Those 11 may not have each been as a result of a different visit (the report does not say other than at least three different visit were involved), but even with some visits having triggered more than one recommendation to deal with serious non-compliance, law enforcement agencies are not as good at following these laws as they should be.

Similarly, one in ten police forces are failing to keep even satisfactory (let alone good) records of the urgent oral applications, which is particularly worrying as this process is one of those most open to abuse due to its lower level of safeguards than the non-urgent processes. What is more, as the New York Times phone hacking investigation suggests (see the sixth point here), either the urgent or non-urgent process was most likely regularly abused over many years – and once again the Interception of Communications Commissioner report shows no sign of investigating this evidence of long-term repeated failure of the regulatory system.

UPDATE: See also Peter Black on the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s report and Zoe O’Connell on the public hearings on the Draft Bill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.