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Public Bodies Could Gain Surveillance Powers Under Law Change

David Paul

,

oil and gas

The new rules could be handed out to five additional UK public authorities, including the Environment Agency, to have access to the public’s communications data.

The UK Government has submitted a statutory instrument requesting a raft of new surveillance powers to five public bodies in Britain allowing them to gain access to phones and computers for private consumer data.

Five companies are set to benefit from the new powers, including the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Environment Agency, the Insolvency Service, the UK National Authority for Counter Eavesdropping (UKNACE), an anti-espionage service, and the Pensions Regulator

The rules are an expansion of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, also known as the Snoopers’ Charter, which “sets out the extent to which certain investigatory powers may be used to interfere with privacy,” according to the official legislation document.

The government says that it is unable to rely on police forces to investigate crimes through the charter, so extra bodies should be given the surveillance powers to fill the gap.

The act currently requires that phone and broadband companies retain customer information, such as web browsing histories, for up to a year, and give police forces and other authorities access to the data.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “To protect national security and investigate serious crimes, law enforcement and relevant public authorities need the ability to acquire communications data.

“These powers are only used where it is absolutely necessary and proportionate and are independently authorised by the Office for Communications Data Authorisations, except in urgent or national security cases.”

In a memorandum explaining the reasons why each body should gain the new powers, the government suggests that they would be used to help with issues such as “accurately assessing risk,” to UK nuclear sites, and stopping “Fraudulent trading committed by company directors.”

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There has previously been push-back against the Investigatory Powers Act due to concerns of potential breaches of privacy.

In 2016, more than 200 lawyers, including several who have been closely involved in cases surrounding evidence from the security services, signed a letter arguing that there needed to be “significant revisions” to the bill before it could be rolled out by parliament.

A statement from the letter read: “A law that gives public authorities generalised access to electronic communications contents compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal.”

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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