Interception errors had serious consequences for individuals

Law enforcement and security services made 12 serious technical and nine human surveillance errors last year

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies made 267,373 requests for communications data, resulting in 517,236 authorisations to intercept or produce private data last year.

The bulk of the requests, 237,694, came from the police and law enforcement agencies, a report by the interception of communications commissioner Anthony May revealed.

Only 26,202 requests were from the three intelligence services – MI5, MI6 and the electronic intelligence agency, GCHQ – according to the report.

The report was presented to the prime minister at the same time as a report from MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee calling for reform of intelligence and surveillance laws.

Interception errors

May revealed that the law enforcement and security services made 12 serious technical and human errors, which had serious consequences for individuals during the course of the year.

They resulted in actions being taken against the wrong individuals, innocent people’s addresses being visited by officers, or a warrant being executed at the wrong address.

Little known institution gets the all clear

The interception of communications commissioner Anthony May's report looked at a little known institution, the National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC). 

NTAC is the depositary for encryption keys that have been ordered to be handed over to the government to help the intelligence services break into secure communications. 

There have been no applications for an order to process encryption keys since May took on the job in January 2013, he revealed.

On four occasions errors led to delays by the police in conducting welfare checks on people in crisis.

A further 60 incidents were reported to May in 2014 – a rise of 3% on 2013.

The majority of errors, 78%, were a failure to cancel a warrant after it had ceased to be material. In some cases, authorities asked for the wrong data, or gave the wrong addresses through human error.

May has the power to investigate claims for compensation from people who believe their communications had been unlawfully intercepted.

But he chose to refer all claims he received to another body, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the report revealed.

May, who is in charge of overseeing Section 94 of the 1984 Telecommunications Act, disclosed that he lacked adequate staff for this part of his work. The act deals with national security and relations with other countries. “My office is currently working at maximum capacity," he said.

Interception of prisoner communications

One of the most contentious areas that the interception commissioner is responsible for is the interception of prisoners’ communications.

Thousands of mobiles are being confiscated in British prisons each year, and many are prisoners using them as a form of "jail currency".

The problem for prison authorities is to stop prisoners running crime empires from inside prison and, as has happened, organising murders from their cells.

May points out that a procedure for handling this issue has been agreed by the National Offenders Management Service.

He said it was astonishing that procedures had not yet been implemented, despite being in draft for a number of years.

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