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MPs seek 'fundamental review' of RIPA after raising concerns with oversight of undercover police work

Out-Law News | 05 Mar 2013 | 3:00 pm | 1 min. read

The Government should commit to a "fundamental review" of UK legislation that governs surveillance practices and the interception of communications, a Parliamentary committee has said.

The Home Affairs Committee said the Government should consult on reforming the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) after raising concerns with state intrusion into the private lives of individuals.

In a new report into undercover policing, the Committee reflected on cases in which undercover policemen had engaged in relationships with women involved in groups they were deployed to monitor.

The Committee said that the behaviour had had a "terrible impact on the lives of those women" and that the cases "raise troubling questions about public policy and the legal framework within which undercover police operations are authorised". It identified failings in the oversight of the regime due to a blurring of the "lines of responsibility" for those operations.

The legal framework is so "ambiguous", the Committee said, that it "fails adequately to safeguard the fundamental rights of the individuals affected" by it. As a result the Government should seek to review RIPA and other legislation, it said.

"We believe that there is a compelling case for a fundamental review of the legislative framework governing undercover policing, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, in the light of the lessons learned from these cases," the Committee said in its report.

"This will require great care and will take some time. We recommend that the Government commit to the publication of a Green Paper on the regulation of investigatory powers before the end of this Parliament, with a view to publishing draft legislation in the Session after the next general election," it said.

A review of RIPA could impact on telecoms firms. The framework sets out laws relating to lawful and unlawful interception of communications.

Under RIPA unlawful interception takes place if a person makes "some or all of the contents of the communication available, while being transmitted, to a person other than the sender or intended recipient of the communication". It also states that interception is illegal on messages stored "in a manner that enables the intended recipient to collect it or otherwise to have access to it".

Under RIPA law enforcement agencies, including the police and MI5, can tap phone, internet or email communications to protect the UK's national security interests, prevent and detect terrorism and serious crime or to safeguard the UK's economic well-being.

Telecoms firms are allowed to unintentionally intercept communications in line with RIPA if the interception "takes place for purposes connected with the provision or operation of that service or with the enforcement, in relation to that service, of any enactment relating to the use of postal services or telecommunications services."