Government requests to intercept private communications more than doubled last year, a parliamentary report revealed today.
Paul Kennedy, the interception of communications commissioner, reported that the number of intercept requests from central government authorities reached 519,260 in 2007, up from 253,557 in 2006.
Despite the growth in interception, Kennedy said that local authorities were not making use of their powers to intercept traffic information on e-mails and phone calls.
He said 154 of 474 local authorities had used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to make 1,707 requests for communications data. In 2006 the figure was 122. "Local authorities could make much more use of communications data as a powerful tool to investigate crime," Kennedy said.
He said councils used the information to identify criminals who persistently rip off consumers, cheat the taxpayer, deal in counterfeit goods, prey on the elderly and vulnerable, and fly-tippers.
"Interception has played a key role in the prevention of murders, tackling large-scale drug importations, evasion of Excise duty, people smuggling, gathering intelligenceon terrorists and various extremist organisations, confiscation of firearms, serious violent crime and terrorism," said Kennedy.
"Communications data plays a crucial role in the successful outcome of prosecutions and often it is the primary reason why offenders plead guilty."
Of the 1,881 warrants issued by the home secretary in 2007, 929 were still in force at the end of the year. The figures for Scotland were 145 and 28 respectively.
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