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Tuesday, July 28, 1998 Published at 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK


Technological 'threat to civil rights'

Personal privacy is threatened say Justice

The law on phone-tapping by the police and security services fails to take account of new means of communications such as e-mail, a civil rights group has warned.

A report by Justice concludes that criminal intelligence work poses a threat to people's privacy and could break European law.

BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg: The reports suggests some methods are unregulated
The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees respect for an individual's private life and it also provides the right to a fair trial.

These rights are going to be more important when the convention becomes enforceable in the United Kingdom courts, probably in the year 2000

MI5 has the legal power to bug and burgle but the security service is not subject to as many restrictions as the police, with which it is increasingly working to combat crime.

[ image: MI5 often work with police]
MI5 often work with police
Justice is calling for a unified set of regulations covering the bugging of all forms of communication.

At present, various acts, including the Interception of Communications Act 1985 and the Police Act 1997, relate to this area.

Justice's director of legal policy, Madeleine Colvin, said: "This is not simply a knee-jerk civil liberties response.

"We recognise that covert policing is a necessary part of today's police methods.

Madeleine Colvin of Justice: A whole range of devices are not regulated
"But at present it is insufficiently regulated, not properly accountable and potentially unlawful."

Other key areas of police surveillance of concern to Justice are house bugging, phone tapping and the use of video recordings from sources such as CCTV cameras.

The group says Britain needed to ensure its laws met the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights.

[ image: Justice is concerned about CCTV recordings]
Justice is concerned about CCTV recordings
It also warns of a hidden threat posed by police databases, which it says are frequently based on speculation rather than fact.

Justice says police records are held on a far more people than just convicted criminals.

It claims Greater Manchester Police possesses 10 million records stored in 50 separate databases.

In Hampshire, which has a population of about two million, 80,000 people are recorded in police files, Justice says.

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