Page last updated at 19:56 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 20:56 UK

'Spying' requests exceed 500,000

Telephone

More than 500,000 official "spying" requests for private communications data such as telephone records were made last year, a report says.

Police, security services and other public bodies made requests for billing details and other information.

Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy said 1,707 of these had been from councils.

A separate report criticises local authorities for using powers to target minor offences such as fly-tipping.

Itemised bills

Figures show public bodies made 519,260 requests to "communications providers" such as phone and internet firms for information in 2007.

Under available powers, they can see details such as itemised phone bills and website records. But they are not allowed to monitor conversations.

The total number of requests for last year - amounting to more than 1,400 a day - compared with an average of fewer than 350,000 a year in the previous two years.

In his report, Sir Paul said he believed "local authorities could make much more use of communications data as a powerful tool to investigate crime".

'Proportionality'

But a separate report, by Chief Surveillance Commissioner Sir Christopher Rose, criticises the techniques employed by local authorities to deal with minor offences such as fly-tipping or avoiding council tax.

He said some councils had a "tendency to expose lack of understanding of the legislation" and displayed a "serious misunderstanding of the concept of proportionality".

Some authorising officers were inexperienced and suffered "poor oversight", he added.

He called on town halls to invest in properly trained intelligence officers who could operate covertly.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "The commissioners' reports offer valuable oversight and provide reassurance that these powers are being used appropriately.

"These powers can make a real difference in delivering safer communities and protecting the public - whether enabling us to gain that vital intelligence that will prevent a terrorist attack, working to tackle antisocial behaviour or ensuring that rogue traders do not defraud the public."


SEE ALSO
Councils admit using spying laws
23 Jun 08 |  England

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