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Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

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Overview Edit

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP or RIPA) is a United Kingdom law regulating the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation for the purpose of detecting crime, and covering the interception of communications. It was introduced to regulate and restrict the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation to detect fraud and crime in the course of their work so that their work is compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998, and to take account of technological change such as the growth of the Internet and strong encryption. The long title of the Act is:

An Act to make provision for and about the interception of communications, the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, the carrying out of surveillance, the use of covert human intelligence sources and the acquisition of the means by which electronic data protected by encryption or passwords may be decrypted or accessed; to provide for the establishment of a tribunal with jurisdiction in relation to those matters, to entries on and interferences with property or with wireless telegraphy and to the carrying out of their functions by the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; and for connected purposes.

"RIPA allows web log records be kept to aid investigation of minor crimes, tax, health and safety and public order offences. Databases can be accessed by Police, intelligence services, Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue. Access authorisation can be given internally from an official at a level with- in that organization designated by the Home Secretary, in cases:

  • Judged to be necessary in the interests of national security
  • For the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder
  • Or in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK
  • If it is in the interests of public safety, or for the purpose of protecting public health
  • Or for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty or levy payable to a government department
  • Or for the purpose in an emergency of preventing death or injury, any damage to a person's physical or mental health
  • Or mitigating any injury or damage to a person's physical or mental health
  • Or 'for any purpose [not listed above]. . . which is specified for the purposes of this subsection by an order made by the Secretary of State.'"[1]


The RIPA allows the government to access a person's electronic communications. The Act:

Interception warrants relating to foreign intelligence are generally issued by the Foreign Secretary. Although a warrant issued under these provisions must be "proportionate" to the intended purpose, intercepted information is expressly excluded from legal proceedings to prevent interception methods from being revealed. Thus, the courts play no role in the authorization or review of these interceptions.[2]

Controversy Edit

Critics claim that the spectres of terrorism, internet crime and pedophilia were used to push the act through and some of these critics were dissatisfied by the amount of substantive debate in the House of Commons. The act has numerous critics, many of who regard the RIPA regulations as excessive and a threat to civil liberties in the UK.

Critics such as Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons home affairs committee, expressed concern that the act is being abused for "petty and vindictive" cases.[3] Similarly, Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South has urged councils to stop using the law, accusing them of acting like comic strip detective Dick Tracy.[4]

In April 2008, it became known that council officials in Dorset put the parents of three children under surveillance, governed by RIPA, at home and in their daily movements to check whether they lived in a particular school catchment area.[5] This was in the context of rules which allow people who live in the school catchment area to enjoy advantages in obtaining a place at a popular school. Gaining an advantage by deception amounts in English law to fraud.

Especially contentious was Part III of the Act which (under some circumstances) might require persons to supply the cryptographic key to a duly authorised person if the actual encrypted traffic was not supplied. Failure to disclose encrypted traffic (or if appropriate the relevant key) would be a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of two years in jail. Using the mechanism of secondary legislation, some parts of the Act required activation by a ministerial order before attaining legal force. Such orders have been made in respect of the relevant sections of Part I and Part II of the RIP Act and Part III. The latter became active in October 2007[6]. The first case where the powers were used was against animal rights activists in November 2007.[7] It has been suggested that the "plausible deniability" features in free software such as FreeOTFE, TrueCrypt and BestCrypt will make the task of investigations featuring RIPA much more difficult.

Critics claim that the provisions of Part III are too complex, and possibly unworkable, and that this might be a reason for government reluctance to activate this part of the legislation. Another possibility is that the government wishes to have the powers in reserve, such that if they were deemed necessary they could be implemented more quickly and easily than if new primary legislation were required. Another possibility is that relevant government agencies might reasonably believe that it is easier to use pre-existing judicial procedures to compel production of evidence rather than the more cumbersome and difficult procedures that ultimately found their way into Part III.

Another objection is that the Act requires sufficiently large UK Internet service providers to install technical systems to assist law enforcement agencies with interception activity. Although this equipment must be installed at the ISPs' expense, RIPA does provide that Parliament will examine appropriate funding for ISPs if the cost burden became unfairly high.

RIPA can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on February 9, 2000 and completed its Parliamentary passage on July 26th. The Bill received Royal Assent on July 28th.

In September 2003, Home Secretary David Blunkett announced wide-ranging extensions to the list of those entitled to see information collected under the RIPA. The list now includes jobcentres, local councils, and the Chief Inspector of Schools. Civil rights and privacy campaigners have dubbed these extensions a "snoopers' charter." At the passing of the act only nine organisations (including the police and security services) were allowed to invoke it, but as of 2008, it was 792 organizations (including 474 councils).

References Edit

  1. Protecting America’s Freedom in the Information Age, at 111.
  2. A Sober Look at National Security Access to Data in the Cloud, at 8.
  3. Gordon Rayner & Richard Alleyne, "Council spy cases hit 1,000 a month," The Daily Telegraph (Apr. 14, 2008) (full-text).
  4. "Council 'acted like Dick Tracy,'" BBC News (May 22, 2008) (full-text).
  5. "Family's shock at council spying," BBC 11th Apr. 2008; "Council admits spying on family," BBC 11th Apr. 2008.
  6. "Contested UK encryption disclosure law takes effect", PC World
  7. BBC NEWS | Technology | Campaigners hit by decryption law

External resources Edit

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