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Thousand a day habit.

I have seen an article about the supposed menace that is bugging, snooping or whateverother name you want to attach.

NOW NOT many people know this, but this fine country of ours – or ‘binge-drinking Britain‘ as the tabloids would have it – actually has an Interception of Communications Commissioner.
The Right Honourable Sir Paul Kennedy is his name and, apart from his age (70) and some brief details about his career as a Judge, I can’t find out anything more about him. Still, I expect he’s a thoroughly nice chap.
I’m not sure that the Powers That Be will be thinking so kindly of him this morning because in his organisation’s annual report, published this week, Sir Paul rather blew the whistle on the frightening extent to which we are under the tyrannical thumb of the State Snoopers.
Let me explain. Sir Paul has announced that there are 28,000 applications made to him every month from various public bodies who want to tap the phones, monitor the emails or intercept the post of British citizens. That’s a thousand a day – an astonishing number. Even worse than that is the quite terrifying number of public bodies which can apply for permission to snoop on your everyday communications. There’s a gob-smacking 800 of them. No, really. All the usual suspects are there: the cops, MI5 and MI6, the Home Office, the Serious Fraud Office and the Ministry of Justice, which I thought was the Home Office anyway, but there we go. (Can I just say that I have no problem with the spooks bugging my phone and opening my mail. That’s how they stop wannabe fanatics chopping up British soldiers in a lock-up garage in Birmingham.)
But then there’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Ministry of Defence and the Financial Services Authority. Borderline, but passable on the grounds of investigating criminality.
Then the really frightening stuff starts. Able to apply to open your post, tap your telephone and bug your emails are the Food Standards Agency, DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the Post Office. Yes, the Post Office. Why? What possible reason could there be for that nice old Mrs Scoggins who dispenses postal orders and first class stamps from behind the counter to have your telephone tapped? Is there really a nationwide investigation into people who’ve been stealing the little bookies’ Biros they keep on bits of string?
But worse, much worse, is the fact that on that list of approved bodies granted a voyeurs’ charter is your local council. I find that terrifying.
Most of our dealings with our local councils are antagonistic. They’ve either refused to empty our bins because there’s a dog hair in the special recyclable left-over avocado container, or they’ve allowed our roads to deteriorate until they resemble the B654 in Basra, or they’re planning to build a mobile telephone mast in the local primary school playground. Either way, we tend to be at odds with them.
So when they grant Orange or O2 permission to radiate our kids, we do what the middle classes all over the country do and form a protest group. We come up with some daft acronym – Villagers Against Giant Incursions of Nastiness At Schools, for example – and we stick up posters, raise petitions and mob council meetings.
But wait. Council officers (full blown members of the Turkey Army and therefore none too bright) could use the fear of the risk of disruption of a public meeting as reason enough to apply to tap the phones and bug the emails of the protest group committee. All of a sudden they not only know what colour the protest posters are going to be or what flavour of muffins Jemima is bringing to the next meeting, but they also know what legal advice you’ve received and how your case is being constructed. It’s hardly fair, is it?
And then there’s the possible abuse by the truly bent; the corrupt councillor or malleable planning official. (You think our MPs are on the fiddle? Trust me. I’ve seen far worse cases of blatant dishonesty on local councils down the years.)
So you’re an eager young reporter on the local paper who gets a sniff about something amiss. So you start asking awkward questions. The next thing you know – or don’t know, to be precise – is that every phone call, every email and every letter is being delivered into the hands of your target? Again, hardly fair, is it?
But of course, you say, these things are subject to careful checks and balances. No-one would get the nod to open my red electric bills without a High Court judge weighing the evidence against my basic human right to freedom and privacy. Ah, but might I refer the reader to the fourth paragraph of this piece? They’re getting 1,000 applications a day. The Right Honourable Sir Paul Kennedy might be acting in the best of intentions, but in reality he can be little more judgemental than a nodding dog with a rubber stamp, or one of those weird ostrich things that you dip in a glass of water.
No-one can possibly assess the pros and cons of every single one of these applications. There just isn’t the time. Therefore you can be assured that many, if not most, merely go through on the nod.
And the only thing left to tell you is that this stupid and dangerous law is, in fact, an EU Directive. But then you’d probably already guessed that, hadn’t you?

3 Responses

  1. While there are some bits of european law relating to telecomms, data retention, interception etc., there aren’t any which require the UK government to give interception powers to local councils. I live in another EU state where national law allows on the police and military intelligence to intercept telecomms. It might be worth checking the background to the legal situation a bit more. It’s also worth remembering that the UK government, along with other states, retains a veto over just about every issue in the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio of the EU. Of course you won’t get to vote on the Lisbon/Reform treaty, not because “Brussels” (whatever that means) says you can’t, but because your democratically elected, sovereign(ish), independent parliament and government won’t let you.

  2. With regards the Post Office being able to request mail interception and phone bugging, I’m guessing it isn’t Mrs Scroggins at Greendale Post Office wanting to know where Sam is going for a quick cuppa, but what used to be called (and possibly still is) Post Office Investigations Department, or POID, or the rat catchers. (Imagine the Police Internal affairs guys, with less personality)

    These are the people who catch posties stealing mail or organised crime against the Post Office and Royal Mail, who are still Crown Servants. Given that some imbecile changed their cash in transit vans from a Royal Mail logo meaning they blended in with all the other vans on the road to a nice easliy identifiable logo of their own, they are at a bigger risk. It’s no real difference to Benefits investigators being able to bug phones.

    But your local council? Now that is scary, and of course you can’t even find out if they are bugging you, because I’m guessing the Freedom of Information doesn’t cover it.

  3. your comment “on the grounds of investigating criminality,” is exactly correct. This is playing right into something much bigger as the EU grows.

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