A consultation paper




Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties (UK)

A Non Profit Civil Liberties Organisation

August 1999

(For the press release of this submission see the Interception of Communications section)

1. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) (, is a non profit civil liberties organisation. It was founded with the aim of promoting free speech and privacy in regard to the Internet. The Board Members of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) welcome the government review but like the Select Committee on Trade and Industry in its paper, Report on Building Confidence in Electronic Commerce (1998-99 HC 187) regret that it was a secretive review. We also regret the lack of empirical evidence for most of the conclusions, especially the claim by the Home Secretary in his foreword that “sophisticated criminals and terrorists have been quick to put the new technology to use”.

2. At the outset, we would not accept that interception is “crucial”, unlike the assertion of the Home Secretary in the Foreword to the Consultation Paper. Interception is important but not “crucial”. If it is so crucial, then why cannot the evidence be used in court? It cannot be crucial to a prosecution by reason of this limitation.

3. The obvious reason why most complaints are not from the subjects of interception is that the fact of interception is never revealed (Consultation Paper, para.1.9). This decreases substantially the chances of abuse ever being uncovered. The retrospective review by the Tribunal or Commissioner is far less likely to spot errors. This limitation raises the issue of whether there should be a mechanism for informing the subjects of surveillance. In common with many Continental European systems, we believe there should be. It is a vital safeguard in practice and in principle respects the autonomy and dignity of the individual. The failure to grant this right will cause continuing problems in respect of inter-state law enforcement (as hinted at in chapter 6). At the same time, if the information is withheld until the investigation is concluded (or perhaps after a specified lapse of time after the surveillance and in circumstances where no legal action has been taken), there should be no significant damage to law enforcement concerns.

4. The proposal for a single legal framework regardless of means of communication is to be welcome (Consultation Paper, para.4.1). It should be emphasised that it should be specified in law what are the powers and procedures. By contrast, the attempt to regulate by codes of practice (such as those issued by ACPO earlier this year) is not acceptable and cannot comply with the demands of the Human Rights Act 1998 (as NCIS for one seems to recognise). The point was made clearly by the European Court of Human Rights as long ago as Malone v UK (Application No. 8691/79, Ser. A. vol. 82) before the enactment of the 1985 legislation. At the same time, it is not clear why there is an exception for “communication data” (Consultation Paper, chap.10). The fact and pattern of traffic is as much a matter of personal preference (including preference as to the level of privacy protection) as the content of a message. Communication data should be subject to the standard legal rules, as seems to be required by the case of Malone v UK (para.56, though the Court did not take a decision in this respect). Furthermore, the consultation paper is defective as it does not address all the forms of surveillance covered by the ACPO codes. There arises a concern that just as fixation on one form of interception (on public telecommunications systems) has become untenable, so fixation on the interception of messages (and not including for example the use of agents and informers) will also result in evasion of the rules.

5. The demand for assistance from ISPs (Consultation Paper, chap.5) is broadly in line with EC Council Resolution on the lawful interception of telecommunications (OJ C 329, 17 January 1995), though this Resolution is subject to proposed amendment (draft Council Resolution on the lawful interception of telecommunications in relation to new technologies (10951/2/98 - C4-0052/99 - 99/0906(CNS). These changes have been criticised by the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs in a report on 23 April 1999 (see Accordingly, we have three concerns regarding this proposal:

6. No convincing reasons are given for the failure to adopt procedures by which judicial warrants would replace executive authority. Judicial authorisation is supported by the principle of respect for individual rights and the separation of powers. The involvement of judges should increase the level of scrutiny because they have the training, experience and time to handle such decisions properly. They would also be more exacting, one would hope in terms of the documentation and evidence required in an application – the norm should be an application on oath. And there should be a requirement to report back to the issuing authority to show what has been done pursuant to the warrant (as for physical searches under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984). Retrospective review of the total files for a year by the Commissioner is in comparison useless. The suggestion (para.7.2) that judges would be inappropriate because of the need for an executive officer to deal with cases of national security and economic well-being is wholly spurious. Most cases now arise from international crime (especially drugs) and so it is odd to set up a system which is reflective of a minority rather than a majority of cases. Furthermore, it is not clear why judges would be unable to deal with the two categories mentioned. Both subject areas fall within the scope of the existing powers to grant judicial warrants under the Official Secrets Act 1911 section 9 and the Official Secrets Act 1989 section 11. One should also question why there should be any interception which does not relate to criminal offences. The increase in the volume of warrants per annum must also cast doubt on the value of having the Home Secretary in charge. Are we really to believe that the Home Secretary has time to scrutinise carefully and individually somewhere in the region of five warrants every day of the year in addition to dealing with the renewal of some of the interception warrants from time to time (paragraph 1.7)? It is clear that the task is in fact delegated to others.

7. The system of oversight by the Commissioner and Tribunal has failed to reassure complainants or the public. The cases cited (especially Christie v United Kingdom, App. no. 21482/93, 78A D&R, Consultation Paper, para.2.10) are said to show that it is sufficient to comply with the European Convention. This may be arguable. These are Commission cases which have not been as fully argued as one would wish. Where similar arguments have reached the Court, the applicant has won (eg Chahal v UK, 22414/93, Reports 1996-V, (1996) 23 EHRR 413; Tinnelly v UK, App. nos. 20390/92 ; 21322/93, Reports 1998-IV, (1999) 27 EHRR 249). The effectiveness of oversight is particularly doubtful in the case of warrants for bulk interception, where an underlying certificate is used to specify the intercepted material which may be examined. Effect is given to the certificate by computer-based word searching of intercepted material, and the choice of words for searching is of course crucial in determining what is examined. There appears to be no oversight that ensures that the selection corresponds properly to what is specified in the certificate. The choice of search criteria, and the evidence on which that choice is based, should be examined as part of the authorisation and oversight process.

8. It remains unclear why the fruits of intercepts cannot be used in court (section 9 of the 1985 Act) - especially if such evidence is "crucial". Reasons cited against such use are not convincing or are unacceptable:

As became clear from the decision of the House of Lords in R v. Preston ([1994] 2 A.C. 130), the statutory provisions for maintaining the secrecy of the fact of interception, and the narrowly expressed purpose of the power itself, have led to difficulties from the point of view of law enforcement in the use of intercepted evidence: all material must be destroyed as soon as its retention is no longer necessary for the prevention or detection of crime, which must usually be inconsistent with its retention for use in a prosecution. The secrecy of the process, and the vesting of the relevant power in the Executive rather than the Judiciary, have effectively prevented the development of a body of case law bearing on the substance of interception issues. Therefore, a further reform may be a needed in the form of the repeal of section 9 of the Interception of Communications Act 1985 as supported by the Lloyd Report on Terrorism Legislation in 1996 (Inquiry into Legislation against Terrorism (Cm.3420, 1996) (the Lloyd Report)). Usage in court (and the prior stage of disclosure) would also be a further valuable check against breach of due process during the collection process.

9. Chapter 6 deals with the international developments in relation to interception of communications. The unregulated (or even illegal) interception capabilities of the Echelon systems and the Enfopol proposals at a European Union level are no longer secret and have been brought to light by civil liberties groups and journalists around the globe. We call for transparency and openness in relation to the development and use of such unaccountable international systems, and for the adoption of safeguards no less stringent than for interceptions with a domestic element. Otherwise interception of international telecommunications amounts to nothing less than state-sponsored information piracy, and will inevitably operate as a constraint on the development of legitimate international co-operation in the prevention of crime.

The Board of Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties (UK)


Principal author of this paper:
Professor Clive Walker, Deputy Director
CyberLaw Research Unit
Centre for Criminal Justice Studies
University of Leeds,
Leeds LS2 9JT.
Telephone: +44 (0) 113 2335033

Other board members:
Mr Yaman Akdeniz, Director
Telephone: +44 (0) 498 865116

Mr Nicholas Bohm, E-Commerce Policy Adviser
Telephone: +44 (0) 1279 871272

Dr Brian Gladman, Technology Policy Adviser
Telephone: +44 (0) 1905 748990

Dr. Louise Ellison, Deputy Director
Telephone: +44 (0) 118 9875123 (ext: 7507)

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