Office of Surveillance Commissioners issues warning over social media snooping

Posted On 02 Aug 2014
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The Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC), led by Chief Surveillance Commissioner The Rt Hon Sir Christopher Rose, has published its Annual Report for 2013-2014. Emma Carr (pictured), the director of Big Brother Watch, highlights some of the main points. *Intrusive surveillance authorisations have increased from 362 to 392 *Directed surveillance by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) has increased from 9,515 to 9,664 *Directed surveillance by public authorities (PAs) has decreased from 5,827 to 4,412 The Commissioner notes that the information included in the 2013-2014 Annual Report is for 100% of LEAs and 96.6% of all other PAs. However, Sir Christopher Rose states:” I am once again slightly disappointed that a few public authorities appear to treat my request for statistical returns as an option” and:” I have therefore decided that, as from next year, those public authorities which have failed to respond within the set deadline will be named in my Annual Report.” The Commissioner also raises the fact that there have been a number of occasions where senior officers have failed to meet with inspectors. These comments would therefore indicate that among some LEAs and PAs there’s a potential problem of the OSC not being taken seriously. The Commissioner also notes that, since the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 was introduced, there has been a” downward trend” in the number of applications made and authorisations granted which” may or may not be attributable to this enactment.” The Commissioner raises concerns about the lack of a common approach from councils towards the authorising process now that it’s controlled by magistrates. He goes on to warn that” the knowledge and understanding of RIPA among magistrates and their staff varies widely.” The Commissioner states that there’s certainly a need for” adequate training of magistrates” and their colleagues. Worryingly, the Commissioner cites two examples of inappropriate authorisations: one having granted approval for activity retrospectively, and another having signed a formal notice despite it having been erroneously completed by the applicant with details of a different case altogether. Social media and covert investigations One of the most interesting sections of the report relates to the use of social media by Pas for covert investigations. The Commissioner states that he” strongly” advises all public bodies to put in place proper policies designed to deal with social media investigations due to a lack of demonstrable understanding of the law from some workers involved in investigations. The report states that:” In cash-strapped public authorities, it might be tempting to conduct online investigations from a desktop as this saves time and money and often provides far more detail about someone’s personal lifestyle, employment and associates, etc, but just because one can does not mean one should.” While long overdue, the Commissioner is absolutely right to acknowledge that many PAs around the country may well be covertly gathering intelligence from social media sites on an illegal basis. RIPA 2000 was created while Google was still in its infancy and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. It would therefore be ridiculous to expect that the legislation would allow the use of the Internet to proportionately investigate crimes while ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect the public’s privacy. A far more open discussion about what data should be monitored” as well as whether the legal framework is truly fit for the digital age” is now required.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.