UK reveals record number of telephone, email, and post monitoring
The United Kingdom is checking on its citizens' telephone conversations, email exchanges, and posted letters like never before (and — as far as I know — like no other country democracy). A report in todays The Times reveals that 439,000 requests were made by secret agencies and other authorised bodies to monitor people’s telephone calls, e-mails and post in a 15-month period from 2005 to 2006.
The newspaper article draws on the report of the "Interceptions of Communications Commissioner" — a somewhat Orwellian sounding title for an office about which I had never heard before and for which a quick google throws up nothing except two references in debates at the House of Lords many years ago. More detailed investigation, however, reveals that the person in question is Sir Swinton Thomas, a former High Court Judge, who has been said Commissioner since April 2000, and that his office is created by Section 57(1) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
The report (apparently his first in seven years in office) covers no less than 795 bodies that are empowered to seek out communications data. Besides the usual suspects such as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the signals intelligence centre in Cheltenham, they also include 52 police forces, 475 local authorities and 108 other organisations such as the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Services Authority. The report also reveals that 4,000 errors were reported, of which 67 were mistakes concerning direct interception of communications. Sir Swinton Thomas is quoted by The Times as describing that figure as “unacceptably high”.
This is where I disagree. I think that 67 mistakes in 439,000 is as good a ratio as you can get — some 0.016 per cent. It is not 67 that is unacceptably high; it is 439,000!
Update: The present Interception of Communications Commissioner is Sir Paul Kennedy, who was appointed in 2006 for three years, writes Spyblog (see also here). So it was his predecessor who wrote the report and not the present Commissioner; I am sure there is a reason for this, even if I can't think of one right now…
Further Update: Spyblog points out that the date of the report (available here) is 19 December 2006 and speculates that the original report may have been toned down which would account for its delayed publication. The letter accompanying the report also makes clear that this is the 6th Annual Report, although The Times in the article referenced above calls it "the first report of its kind". As I have not had a chance to go hunting for the other reports, I cannot solve the contradiction between these two claims.