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UK Local Councils Spy On Emails and Calls 61

Posted by timothy
from the apb-for-winston-smith dept.
MrSteveSD writes "The Daily Mail is reporting that local councils have been using the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on people's phone and email records. Reasons given for the surveillance include checking for evidence of people storing petrol without permission and investigating unburied animal carcasses. The surveillance was uncovered using Freedom of Information laws. The scope of the RIPA act is staggering. It would be simpler to list who isn't allowed to access your phone and email records. Aside from political action, what can be done technologically to combat this threat? Use Skype rather than the normal telephone?"
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UK Local Councils Spy On Emails and Calls

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  • Privacy (Score:2, Funny)

    by Lopton (990061)
    Who needs it? *sigh*
    • by ushering05401 (1086795) on Friday June 06, 2008 @07:55AM (#23680271) Journal
      At least they are still giving reasons for the surveillance :)

      We won't really be in trouble until they stop with the rationalizations altogether..

      Right?

      *sigh*
    • Does the UK have a FOIA now? Last I knew, that was an American law (unless they have their own, or this was somehow discovered by things received from the American government).

      Well, ok, that may be the summary's fault, because the article just mentions "freedom of information" laws, not FOIA itself.

      But it's STILL a story in the Daily Mail, and not what I'd call a reputable source. Can anyone confirm this with a better source, or are we being trolled here?
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:25AM (#23679745)
    The cops want sound with the video from CCTV cameras. They were tired of having to hire silent movie pianists while they watched the citizenry.
  • Function Creep (Score:5, Informative)

    by silasthehobbit (626391) on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:27AM (#23679751)
    As with all too many of the UK Government's policies, this was introduced with the express intention of dealing with suspected terrorists.

    Unfortunately, we Brits are about to get repeatedly hit over the head with the Terrorism Act (2000) - used recently in the case of a man who downloaded the 'Manchester Manual' from the US Department of Justice's servers, and was then arrested - and the Civil Contingencies Act - which allows the Government to suspend democratic process in a 'state of emergency'.

    At the present time, the Government are also trying to push through 42 days detention without charge, despite there being no evidence to justify such an increase from the current (and already excessive) 28 days.

    I am, like many people I know, looking to leave the UK for a new life abroad.
    • Re:Function Creep (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chrb (1083577) on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:44AM (#23679815)
      On the bright side, 28->42 days is only an extra 2 weeks... the Patriot Act allows the US government to lock people up FOREVER without charge.
      • On the bright side, 28->42 days is only an extra 2 weeks... the Patriot Act allows the US government to lock people up FOREVER without charge.
        ... yeah, but on the down side, you're still locked up. It would be better just to avoid living in either country...
      • Inevitably, when a discussion of privacy in a country other than the US arises, people come out of the woodwork to make comparisons to US policies even though the article has fuck all to do with the US.

        Guess what? In many countries you can also be detained "forever" (which is an inaccurate analysis of the Patriot Act anyway, please post a link to a court decision proving otherwise if you have one (you don't)) so what's with the hard on about the US?

        Why do so many foreigners have such an inferiority complex
        • The GP poster can't, because the court decision doesn't exist, and I believe that the authority isn't in the Patriot Act, either. Some may not believe it, but there's still a constitutional requirement that a person be charged within a reasonably short time-frame, stemming from the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, which necessitates that the charges themselves be filed speedily.

          Far too many people conflate the Patriot Act with Guantanamo Bay detentions. They are unrelated, and the only reason that
        • by chrb (1083577)
          A simple search [google.com] would've answered your questions regarding the Patriot Act and indefinite detention.

          As for your other comments: why do you think that comparing the judicial responses of two of the Western democratic nations engaged in the "war on terror" is inappropriate? It seems entirely reasonable - a rational comparison does not represent an "inferiority complex".
          • A simple search [google.com] would've answered your questions regarding the Patriot Act and indefinite detention.

            That's not what I asked for and betrays your ignorance of the US judicial system.

            I asked for court cases FOR A REASON. You link is useless.

            Care to try again, or will you admit there ARE NO COURT CASES that demonstrate you are correct with your assertion?

            As for your other comments: why do you think that comparing the judicial responses of two of the Western democratic nations engaged in the "war

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      That's why it is so important to argue the case for and against every law, before it becomes law. It's easy to write an introduction saying 'this is to stop terrorists', but much harder to frame the law so that it only applies to terrorism cases.

      I'd say move! I left Blighty for Switzerland a few months ago, and have a whole new perspective now that I'm the foreigner. Generally great, but jeez, sometimes the Swiss make you feel like an [www.cbc.ca] outsider [flickr.com]!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lysse (516445)
      Aye, but where? The UK is far from the worst country for piling petty tyrannies onto its citizens... although quite how the British political system ever came to be described as "democracy" is a complete mystery to me, unless democracy can really be stretched to mean "the Crown's subjects receive the occasional opportunity to give the job of pretending to run the country to a different set of chancers, spongers, curtain-twitchers, busybodies and nest-featherers, and they should be grateful that their ruler
      • by user24 (854467)
        "The UK is far from the worst country for piling petty tyrannies onto its citizens"

        perhaps, but it's among the worst for surveillance:
        http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd%5B347%5D=x-347-559597 [privacyinternational.org]
        • by lysse (516445)
          Thanks; interesting (if dismaying) figures. (And congratulations to Greece!) I note, though, that Scotland scores substantially better than the rest of the UK. Perhaps therein lies the root of a solution - move to Scotland, then vote for independence?
      • by Nimey (114278)
        Indeed. Here's to the common-law system; at least it has /somewhat/ better protection for the little guy versus Roman-style civil "it only counts if it's written down by the legislature and you're guilty unless you prove otherwise" law. And you can always have a judge say that the legislature are wankers.
      • Louisiana, US is run with a civil code/law. not saying it's great, but people around here seem to like it http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/tsrssearch.htm [state.la.us]
    • by 19061969 (939279)
      Go for it m8. I left this year and have no regrets except for missing Clark's pies :-(
    • Re:Function Creep (Score:5, Interesting)

      by akadruid (606405) <slashdot@thedrBO ... o.uk minus berry> on Friday June 06, 2008 @09:05AM (#23680761) Homepage
      It's only a month since Poole council hit the headlines for using RIPA to spy on families to check school applications[1] - council employees were literally following people around and sitting outside their houses. Not only is this explicitly legal, but they were prepared to go on record saying they considered it to be a normal desirable practice. There will be a lot more of this.

      The Tories want to get rid of the 'paperwork' of RIPA[2] too, which basically means eliminating those awkward checks and balances so they can get on with real spying in peace (that's how I read it anyway).

      On the bright side, the police hate RIPA[2] as it is, so at least its due for some more headlines first

      1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/7341179.stm [bbc.co.uk] & http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1584713/Poole-council-spies-on-family-over-school-claim.html [telegraph.co.uk]

      2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/02/03/do0301.xml [telegraph.co.uk]

      3. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/08/flanagan_ripa/ [theregister.co.uk]
  • But... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:33AM (#23679779)
    If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear (/sarcasm)

    Also my local council used the law to spy on a family trying to give their kids a decent education http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/apr/11/localgovernment.ukcrime [guardian.co.uk]

    Or if you want you can download the forms to apply to spy on someone form here http://security.homeoffice.gov.uk/ripa/about-ripa/forms/ [homeoffice.gov.uk]

    • Re:But... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday June 06, 2008 @08:05AM (#23680329) Journal

      How do I go about getting this information out of the councils to find out if they've been spying on me and if so what information they have gathered? Can I apply for this under Freedom of Information? And can anyone else?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by internewt (640704)

        Even though your post hase been modded up to +5 (I have modifiers, so that might not be right) there are no replies.... and this isn't a proper one either.

        I think the lack of replies shows how a system that supposedly exists to free government infomation isn't very approachable at all.... and the cynic in me says the authorities would have wanted it that way.

        I added this site to my bookmarks the otherday... looks interesting
        http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ [whatdotheyknow.com]
        But the UK gov do seem to try and make URLs pre

      • You can but try, write to your local council and they are obliged to at least respond in 17 days or so. Whether you can find out specifics might be something for the Information Commissioner.
    • If people really had nothing to hide, then clothing stores would go out of business.

      Perhaps that's why some of the best men's clothiers are from England.
  • Forbid councils, and other government bodies in general, from accessing phone records and email? Forbid law agencies from taking finger prints? Make it illegal for the police to arrest you on the off chance they make a mistake? More people were getting convicted of committing crimes they had nothing to do with 20 years ago when we didn't have all this technology. Now we have it and can improve on false convictions and you don't want to use it?
    • by drsquare (530038) on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:56AM (#23679851)

      Forbid councils, and other government bodies in general, from accessing phone records and email?
      Yes. I can't think of a single reason why a local council needs access to communication records. They're not law enforcement, they're supposed to fix pot-holes, cut the grass and fine you for parking your car. Why the fuck do they need to be reading our e-mails?

      Local councillors are people who are so worthless and incompetent, they can't even be an MP. Why should we trust them with any information at all?
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        They can send you to prison for not paying your council tax, and do so regularly. A guy I used to work with loved going to court with his list of "criminals" that were so poor they couldn't afford the monthly tax, they'd end up doing time. Benefits don't fill in the gaps, having some money coming in and a roof over your head that isn't provided by the council, pushes you through the gaps.

        Councils handle housing benefits which is integrated with the community tax (or whatever it's called these days). That's
        • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Friday June 06, 2008 @08:05AM (#23680323)

          They can send you to prison for not paying your council tax, and do so regularly.

          No, they can't. A court may send you to prison. A council can merely bring a case against you, just as you yourself may bring a case against someone who has wronged you. But you don't get to spy on HM Revenue and Customs' e-mails about your tax return under the RIP Act, even though it is known that HMRC screw up thousands of tax calculations every year to the detriment of the citizens concerned and waste billions of pounds of taxpayers' money every year by failing to run their own systems properly.

          As the GP said, there is no legitimate reason to grant councils (and numerous other pseudo-government agencies) access to such personal information. On the occasions where there are legitimate grounds for a serious investigation — and they are rare at council level, very rare — it should be possible for the council to go via the court system and/or police to find the information they need with judicial oversight, just like they used to.

          There is an increasing mound of evidence to show that laws providing for gross invasion of privacy are being abused on a massive scale for the most trivial of things by pencil pushers who fancy themselves important. There is almost no evidence that councils are using these sweeping powers to get good results in genuine cases where they couldn't have achieved similar results without the powers. It's just a screwed up law, and the sooner it's repealed the better.

        • it's a great wheeze, isn't it? They save money by reducing services, and then MAKE money by fining people for not picking up the slack now that the services are gone.

          Your rubbish needs to be collected - you will now pay us for the privilege of doing most of the work yourself, and go to prison if you don't pay, and pay us more money if you don't do the work.
    • Now we have it and can improve on false convictions and you don't want to use it?
      Yep, you appear to have noticed modern man's false convictions :P Lots of whining about stuff but try and do something about it and people are all "do not want!".. meh
    • by arotenbe (1203922)
      Yay! I get to yell "false dichotomy" and then provide no acceptable middle ground in response, like everyone else who criticizes someone's argument on Slashdot!

      Seriously, the problem is that it is always a slippery slope. Having an invasion of privacy is unacceptable; preventing the courts from collecting evidence is unacceptable. But thanks to government and media FUD, the balance will always be shifting toward the former, through loopholes and ambiguously-worded "security" laws. So there really is a tende
    • Forbid councils, and other government bodies in general, from accessing phone records and email?

      Sounds good to me. Then we could make specific exemption for the police if they obtain a court order. That sounds like a reasonable way to run a society.

      Now we have it and can improve on false convictions and you don't want to use it?

      I don't know about the GP, but personally, I don't want it used indiscriminately. I don't want it used casually. I don't want access to this data to be widely available. Agai

  • by drsquare (530038) on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:51AM (#23679839)
    UK Local Council in "Wasting Tax-Payers' Money and Being Crooked" Shocker. Film at 11.

    Next week: local resident arrested for 42 days without charge for putting the bins out too early.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2008 @06:09AM (#23679919)
    I went for a job in local government just last week and one of the interview questions was "What legislation, acts and policies are relevant to the job?"

    I mentioned all the usual - data protection act, freedom of information act, computer misuse act, health and safety at work act as well as standards policies like BS7799 etc. and then I also mentioned RIPA.

    The guy interviewing gave the response "Oh I'd not heard of that one before".

    Perhaps I should've kept my mouth shut.
  • big brother (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Friday June 06, 2008 @07:04AM (#23680131)
    This is a country where the most popular entertainment is watching a TV program where people in a house are recorded 24 hours a day.

    I doubt people here care that much.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Escogido (884359)
      You know what? They all will die one day, well almost. And they are not replaced much by the younger generation.

      http://www.herecomeseverybody.org/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.html [herecomeseverybody.org]
      • by Drasil (580067)

        That's an interesting link, I've yet to read it all but I feel I should point out that we do not have more free time than ever before, members most hunter-gather societies have significantly more free time than those of us in the (post) industrialised world.

        We are well past the point where we should all be working 2 day weeks as mechanisation takes up the strain. Marx (correctly IMO) pointed out that capitalism tends to lead to overproduction which must be justified in some way. In Marx's time this was by

      • I have to say, anyone who argues that playing WoW (and don't get me wrong, I love WoW) is somehow more useful than watching TV is pretty delusional.
    • Re:big brother (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sayfawa (1099071) on Friday June 06, 2008 @08:14AM (#23680385)
      The conspiracy theorist in me sometimes believes that the sole purpose of that show was to inundate people with the term 'Big Brother' just so that when the UK really did become a big brother state there would be no shock value in calling it so.

      Radical leftist on podium: Big Brother is watching you, man!
      Passive sheople: Hey, I like that show. I'll go watch it now.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hanyin (1301045)

        The conspiracy theorist in me sometimes believes that the sole purpose of that show was to inundate people with the term 'Big Brother' just so that when the UK really did become a big brother state there would be no shock value in calling it so.

        I always thought that they did the same with the phrase 'antisocial behavior'. I'm not from the UK but I get the impression that they managed to make it not only refer to your neighborhood hoodlum who likes to break windows and spray-paint walls, but protesters too. That way when you hear about antisocial behavior on the news you automatically think it was justified that someone was arrested without actually knowing what they were doing.

        I may be wrong so feel free to correct me if I'm off base with my opi

    • by DrSkwid (118965)
      5 million viewers is not "the most popular" by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Phone records would be available from the provider, but I'm curious to know how they plan to spy on email. ISPs might keep header logs, but for the most part that's just going to stay on some arbitrary webmail server or be downloaded directly to the target's computer.

    You can be pretty sure that they'll notice when they come to investigate that.
    "Er, who are you and what are you doing with my computer?"
    "Just checking your email; nothing to see here. No wait, you emailed your buddy Bob for some reason abo

    • by arkhan_jg (618674)
      British ISPs are required to keep email header logs for later inspection under RIPA, soon to be joined by website requests. Contents of emails are supposedly not recorded, just the header sender/destination trail etc. It's supposed to be somewhat analogous to phone logs, which are also available on demand by lots of different organisations under RIPA.

      The primary purpose the councils are putting it to are establishing 'known contacts' of someone they already have under investigation, or simple identifying o
  • Which councils? I want to see the full response.

  • TFA says these laws were only intended to be used in case of national security. Inferring the law had been used incorrectly. Therein lies the rub. Define national security. The same could be said for defining terrorist or sexual deviant. It seems to me no one crossed a line using these laws improperly. That's the problem. Once the {insert whomever here} lost his/her rights, so did I.

    -[d]-

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