RIPA not fit for purpose say MPs

06 December 2014

The legislation governing communications data is needs a complete overhaul says the Home Affairs Select Committee in its Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 report.


Transparency and record-keeping

  • The Committee acknowledges the operational need for secrecy both during investigations and afterwards (so that investigative techniques more broadly are not disclosed). However, there has to be proper oversight and scrutiny. The Committee recommends that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly.

Effective oversight

  • The Committee noted that Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy, Interception of Communications Commissioner, launched an inquiry in October 2014 to determine whether the acquisition of communications data had been used to identify journalistic sources. He wrote to all Chief Constables and directed them, under section 58(1) of RIPA, to provide him with details of all investigations that had used powers under Chapter 2 of Part I of RIPA to acquire communications data to identify journalistic sources. His office will undertake a full inquiry into these matters and report the findings to the Prime Minister and publish them.
  • The Committee believes all local police forces must communicate openly and efficiently with the Commissioner regarding the information they give him about their work. The Committee considers that IOCCO should be given further resources to carry out its job in an effective and timely manner, particularly in respect to their inquiry into the use of RIPA powers regarding journalistic sources.

Updated code of practice

  • The communications data code of practice was drafted eight years ago and, unlike the interception or the surveillance code which were recently updated, contains no advice on dealing with professions that handle privileged information, nor on the use of confidential help-lines. We note Sir Paul’s recommendation to the Home Office concerning the need for improvements to the statistical requirements in the RIPA Code of Practice. It is vital that the statistical requirements are enhanced, so that the public can be better informed about the use which public authorities make of communications data.
  • On 15 October 2014, the Home Secretary announced that the Home Office was conducting a review of the use of RIPA in response to concerns over its use to access journalists' phone records. The Government has stated that a revised code will be published in draft "this autumn" and will be subject to public consultation. With only 26 days until the new year, the Home Office has failed to meet its own timetable.

Chair's comments

Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee said:

"RIPA is not fit for purpose. We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation. Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.

The recording of information under RIPA is lamentably poor, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised, without proper monitoring of what is being destroyed and what is being retained. We are concerned that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of RIPA allows investigating authorities to engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy, with inadequate oversight.

The Home Office has failed to publish its review within its own timetable, and not for the first time. It should hold a full public consultation on an amended RIPA Code of Practice, and any updated advice should contain special provisions for dealing with privileged information, such as journalistic material and material subject to legal privilege. It is vital that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly."

Further information

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