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Prime Minister Tony Blair evades Questions on the missing RIPA Commissioners Annual Reports, again

The Prime Minister Tony Blair seems to be evading Parliamentary Questions of interest to Spy Blog, again.

The non-publication of the the Annual Report for 2005 of the Interception of Communications Commissioner (currently Rt. Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy , who took over from Rt. Hon Sir Swinton Thomas in April 2006) and the Annual Report for 2005 of the Intelligence Services Commissioner (currently Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Gibson , who took over from Lord Justice Simon Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood in April 2006), as mandated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part IV Scrutiny etc. of Investigatory Powers and of the functions of the Intelligence Services (RIPA)

Commons Hansard 1 Feb 2007 : Column 463W:

Prime Minister Annual Reports

Mr. Clegg: To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to the answer of 15 January 2007, Official Report, column 787W, on annual reports, what the reasons are for the delays in publication of the reports. [117794]

1 Feb 2007 : Column 464W

The Prime Minister: I have nothing further to add to the answer I gave the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on 15 January 2007, Official Report, column 787W.

See our previous blog article for details of these previous Questions and non-Answers:
"When will the missing Annual Reports of the RIPA Commissioners be published ?"

Since the public versions of these Reports by former High Court Judges, are according to the censored of anything which might compromise national security or ongoing investigations, presumably there must be something in them which is politically embarrassing for the NuLabour Government

N.B. According to our Freedom of Information Act Request, the Cabinet Office still had not received copies of these reports by 25th January 2007. See "Surprising reply from the Cabinet Office re the missing RIPA Commissioners' Annual Reports for 2005"

The Prime Minister has obviously not just been completely oblivious to the issues surrounding RIPA, as he has re-appointed one of the team of RIPA Surveillance Commissioners, who are meant to oversee the use of intrusive surveillance (interference with property e.g. buildings or vehicles, in order to plant electronic surveillance devices) and the use of covert human informants etc.

In contrast with the other RIPA Commissioners' Annual reports, the Annual Report for 2005 -2006 of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (.pdf) was published online in July 2006 ( currently Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Rose who took over from Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew Leggatt on 1st July 2006)

Commons Hansard 1 Feb 2007 : Column 23WS:

Prime Minister Surveillance Commissioner

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am pleased to announce that I have re-appointed the right hon. Sir Philip Otton as a surveillance commissioner in accordance with Section 91 of the Police Act 1997.

The appointment will be from 1 February 2007 to 31 January 2010. The remit of each surveillance commissioner covers the whole of the United Kingdom so that any surveillance commissioner can act in jurisdictions other than his own.

1 Feb 2007 : Column 23WS


I suspect you're right. Any ideas what they might be hiding?

I wonder if this comment from the Interception Commissioner's 2004 report is a clue:

23. Although no formal oversight regime was in place during 2004 work was, and continues to be, undertaken to gather statistical information from all the empowered police and public authorities on their use of the powers conferred on them under RIPA Part I Chapter II, specifically (i) the number of requests made for subscriber details, (ii) the number of requests made for details of incoming and outgoing data, (iii) details of any other types of data, and (iv) the total number of errors that occurred during the application process. I intend providing these details, and a report of the oversight inspections undertaken during 2005, in my 2005 Annual Report.
Might the government be embarrassed at the number of self-authorised requests being made for communications data, which has been estimated to be over 1 million per year by FIPR?

@ Ian - why would that result in the suppression of both the Interception of Communications and the Intelligence Services Commissioners' reports ?

Could the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke, have been overwhelmed by the number of Interception warrants he was supposed to read, carefully consider and then sign ?

Was there a significant number of interceptions which were not signed by Charles Clarke in the first instance ?

Is that what led to the amendment of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by the Terrorism">http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/60011--c.htm#32">Terrorism Act 2006 section 32 Interception warrants, which substitutes "by the hand of a senior official" rather than the "Secretary of State", for the renewal of interception warrants and certificated warrants ?

Could both of the Commissioners have said that there is still no need to implement RIPA Part III dealing with access to encrypted material and keys, which would have contradicted the idea of the RIPA Part III Code of Practice consultation exercise last summer ?

Perhaps it is something political, like the "Wilson Doctrine" regarding the interception of communication of Members of Parliament (Commons and Lords) ?

Anything directly to do with "national security" per se, could have be censored from the public versions of the reports, as allowed for under the RIPA legislation, and it would not then have been necessary to suppress the publication of the whole of these reports.

Could it just be that the lame duck Prime Minister Tony Blair can no longer be bothered to read long and complicated reports, and he is way behind on his nightly "red boxes" homework ?

The Independent reports today on what looks to be the 2006 Interceptions report:

Scratch that, it's a 15 months report until March 2006.

Sir Swinton apparently approves of bugging MPs, so he's no great loss.

However, he did describe the 1,300% increase in warrants (or corresponding errors?) as "unacceptably high".

@ Dave - It was the number of errors which he described as unacceptably high.

The number of warrants and certificates (excluding the still secret ones for Northern Ireland) is actually less than in previous years. That says nothing about the actual number phone or email etc. intercepts, as one certificate for GCHQ could cover, say, all the internet traffic across the Atlantic.

His 2004 report was submitted to Tony Blair on 12th July 2005, and published on 3rd November 2005

His 2005-2006 report was submitted to Tony Blair on 19th December 2006, and published on 19th February 2007, but covers 1 January 2005 to 31 March 2006.

Section 58 of RIPA says:


(4) As soon as practicable after the end of each calendar year, the Interception of Communications Commissioner shall make a report to the Prime Minister with respect to the carrying out of that Commissioner's functions.


(6) The Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of every annual report made by the Interception of Communications Commissioner under subsection (4), together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (7).

Surely the way in which "calendar year" and "annual report" have mutated into "15 month report" published in the second calendar year cannot be what Parliament intended ?

Was Rt. Hon. Sir Swinton Thomas
"working to rule" ?

Technically, Tony Blair could have published the report on the 20th December 2006, the day that Parliament broke up for the Christmas and New Year recess.

Uh, please excuse my dodgy maths. It's actually a 13,000% increase in warrants.

Addressing your missed your last comment. I'm looking at the Annex to the reports, eg for 2004:

Warrants (a) in force, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, as at 31 December 2004 and (b) issued during the period 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2004
Home Secretary a) 674 b) 1849
Scottish Executive a) 34 b) 124

It also mentions RIPA modifications - are those amendments to existing warrants?

@ Dave - which figures are you using ? A warrant or certificate signed by the Home Secretary (or a senior official at the Home Office) is needed for intercepts of the content of phone calls or emails etc.

I recall that the total for one of the previous years came to 2600 warrants.

No warrant is needed for the

the overall number of requests for communications data which totalled 439,054

i.e. itemised phone bills, telephone subscriber name and address details, webserver or email server log files, mobile phone location based services data etc.

These requests only need an authorisation by, for example, a middle ranking Police officer like a Superintendent.

Thanks. Is "mobile phone location based services data" tracking you thru triangulating your mobile phone?

It would be very interesting to get figures on that.

@ Dave - the mobile networks sell a subset of the available tracking data to third party Location Based Services providers, who usually integrate it with a Geographical Information System or at least a web based map, and a not always very secure web based registration and credit card e-commerce setup, to sell these services to the public.

Some of the networks do have the facility for tringulation , e.g. Orange, who charge more for this more accurate service, some do not. Some keep a record of the last known location of a phone before it is switched off, even if it has not been used to make a call e.g. Vodafone, some do not.

There are all sorts of figure, even aggregate total figures, which would be of interest, and which would not betray any individual investigation, but which might show the increasing use or abuse of such techniques year on year, but which the public are being denied access.

Perhaps the new Interception of Communication Commissioner, the Rt. Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy or the mobile phone industry regulation authority Ofcom, will be more diligent in their public duty to provide as much transparency as possible.

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