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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Q&A: A snooper's charter?
What was the government proposing?

Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act the police, intelligence services, customs and excise and the Inland Revenue are allowed to access records showing who people are e-mailing and telephoning.

The government wanted to extend these powers to seven other government departments, local councils and public bodies such as the Food Standards Agency and branches of the NHS. (See last answer for full list)

But Home Secretary David Blunkett has been forced back to the drawing board after fierce opposition from civil liberty groups and MPs on all sides of the Commons.

When will it become law?

The Home Office is to re-think its proposals over the summer and they will be debated in the next parliamentary session, in the Autumn.

Mr Blunkett made the u-turn after Conservative peers threatened to use their voting strength in the Lords to block the proposals.

What information would local councils and other bodies have been able to find out about you under the original proposals?

In theory, organisations should only have been able to monitor your e-mails and phone calls in connection with criminal investigations.

For example, a council's trading standards department might have wanted to track the movement of counterfeit goods using mobile phone or internet records.

But because organisations would not have had to seek permission from the courts to see your records, there was concern that the system would have been open to abuse.

Would people have been able to listen into my phone calls or read my e-mails?

No. They would only have had access to the source and destination of e-mails and phone calls.

They would also have been able to find out what websites people have visited and where mobile phone users were at a certain time.

Would you have known if your records were being checked?


If you suspected your phone records or internet connections were being monitored by someone, you could have asked to see their records under the Data Protection Act.

But if you were under investigation for a criminal offence you would have been denied access.

How would you have been able to stop people from accessing information about you?

The law would have applied to phone companies and service providers, who would have had to hand over any records requested.

However, if you had reason to believe your records were being monitored covertly you could have complained to the Information Commissioner's Office.

This is an independent watchdog which monitors data protection issues.

If it could be proved that the surveillance was unwarranted you would have been able to sue for compensation.

What were opponents of the plan concerned about?

They were worried that the government was undermining people's right to privacy.

Which organisations would have been able to check your records?

Apart from those already allowed access - such as the police, intelligence services and the inland revenue, the full list is as follows:

Government departments

  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • The Department of Health
  • The Home Office
  • The Department of Trade and Industry
  • The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
  • The Department for Work and Pensions
  • The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland

Local authorities

  • Any local authority within the meaning of section 1 of the Local Government Act 1999
  • Any fire authority as defined in the Local Government (Best Value) Performance Indicators Order 2000
  • A council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994
  • A district council within the meaning of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972
  • NHS bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • The Common Services Agency of the Scottish Health Service
  • The Northern Ireland Central Services Agency for the Health and Social Services

Other bodies

  • The Environment Agency
  • The Financial Services Authority
  • The Food Standards Agency
  • The Health and Safety Executive
  • The Information Commissioner
  • The Office of Fair Trading
  • The Postal Services Commission
  • The Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency
  • The Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary
  • A Universal Service Provider within the meaning of the Postal Services Act 2000

See also:

11 Jun 02 | UK Politics
05 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
24 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
22 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
06 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
Internet links:

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