MP opposes looming extension of invasive powers

Data retention.
Data retention.

Londonderry MP Mark Durkan has strongly criticised the Government for not allowing for proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill which gives the security services access to people’s phone and internet records.

The SDLP was one of a small minority of MPs who yesterday (Tuesday) opposed the DRIP Bill being forced through Parliament ahead of the summer recess.

He said: “This House should not be microwaving legislation onto the statute book under the confected urgency about which we have been told. We seem to have had a muddle within government, a huddle between government and opposition, and now an attempt to hurry and befuddle Parliament under the guise of various arguments and scares.”

Mr Durkan said assurances offered by Ministers that the Bill was simply a carry-on data retention measure were unacceptable.

“The nature of the Bill’s provisions seems to extend the legislation in a number of areas. Ministers will say that that is simply to clarify but, in effect, it extends the effect and the strength of the existing legislation in ways that go beyond the assurances of Ministers,” he said.

“We should be a chamber of scrutiny and accountability. That is why we should be questioning the way in which we have received this Bill, and it is why we should be pressing the government further through debating amendments at the next stage of this Bill’s passage.”

The new bill amends the existing Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which, as the Sentinel has previously reported, is regularly used by the PSNI others to access people’s mobile phone data here.

In May 2012, this paper reported how the PSNI spent £1m accessing people’s mobile phone data between 2006/7 and 2010/11. The money was paid out to mobile phone companies for access to data under RIPA.

The paper also informed its readers the PSNI had applied for permission to intercept people’s telephone calls, emails or letters and acquire their telephone billing or subscriber details on 13,848 occasions between April 2009 and May 2012.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Environment (DoE) is also authorising the ‘directed surveillance’ of individuals - mostly through the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) enforcement division - dozens of times every year.

Between 2006 and November 2013, 240 ‘directed surveillance’ authorisations were issued by the DoE.

These mostly relate to the DVA enforcement section, which is responsible for enforcing a wide range of legislation pertaining to goods vehicles, buses and taxis.

The division also checks private cars and tractors.

Between 2008 and 2012, several authorisations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPA) legislation were also issued to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s (NIEA) Environmental Crime Unit.