back to article UK gov issued 250k snoop licences in nine months

The regulator for Britain's snoopers has released a report covering the last nine months of 2006, painting a panglossian picture of a period which saw a quarter of a million intercepts. From 11 April to 31 December 2006 there were 253,557 requests for communication data. In the same period there were only 1,088 errors - mostly …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Properly authorised phone taps should be considered admissible evidence in the courts. Obviously, chain of evidence rules would have to be observed, and just talking about something can't be considered a crime on its own, but surely a great chunk of the value of wiretaps is being chucked out with matters as they stand.

    Maybe there would need to be a second level of warrant to collect intercept evidence, or some other oversight safeguard, but i refuse to believe there is no way that phone/IP tap evidence can't be made safe.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sir Paul Kennedy was a Blair appointee

    A RIPA order is where designated people from 1000+ UK agencies write an order to secretly obtain the communications data of someone in the UK. They do not go to court to obtain an order, or demonstrate probable cause to the courts.

    A random selection get handed to a political appointee (Paul Kennedy) who takes a sample and stamps a smiley face on them as a check to say they are OK. He is a political appointed, chosen by Tony Blair.

    Guess how many MPs have had RIPA orders issued against them? I heard 60% of them have been investigated with 10% under investigation currently. With the peak at the time when TB was very unpopular in his party and I heard Brown is in the 60%.

    Perhaps you could ask him. Now that I find the 200k+ number I heard was true, I wonder how deep this hole goes. :)

  3. Greg

    I dunno what's scarier...

    ...the sheer number of phone taps, or that they started on my birthday.....

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Anyone else terrified by this report?

    This country hasn’t just been sleep walking into a Big Brother total control society. It has hopped skipped and ran the 100 meter sprint into it.

    Why on earth are we letting this happen?

  5. Kevin Johnston


    You have to wonder what percentage of the total he checked the 1,088 errors were, or if this was an 'extrapolated' number. If he is checking 10 a day, which would not be an unreasonable number bearing in mind travel time plus the complexity that some of the records would include, that has him checking about 2,000 in nine months. Suddenly 1,000 in error suggests half of all requests have errors and with 250,000 requests that must be at least 2 CDs worth in error.

  6. 3x2

    RIPA eh?

    250,000? In 9 months!? Were these individual items or taps on 250,000 individuals? Is that 500,000 by virtue of communication normally involving at least two parties?

    Only 122 LOCAL councils were using them - I feel safer already.

    [...] those... who work in this field have great enthusiasm in their work. [...] Getting worried yet? Reminded of the speeches that used come out of the old USSR yet?

    RIPA eh? Welcome to Stalin's Britain.


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    MI5 and security services - OK acceptable with proper checks

    Police - yeah, with correct authority and checks


    Councils allowed to phone tap to catch a fly tipper - you have gotta be kidding.

    I live in Hackney - FFS!! historically one of the most corrupt councils in the world let alone the UK. No way Jose...........

  8. Alastair Dodd

    so 1/4 of a million people have ben suspected of a crime

    flipping heck we are a bunch of corrupt people arn't we?

    Anyone else think that is MASSIVELY too high and overreaching?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Big F'ing Brother!!!

    If I'm not mistaken that means they have directly and deliberately bugged just over 0.5% of the adult UK population in the last 9 months.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Voip counter measures with convenience and security.

    Why don't criminals just use PGP and then tunnel it through an https connection so they can't be expected to know the key and the networks don't boot them for voip traffic which looks like https browsing sessions.

    With a dedicated server acting as a proxy , and also hosting some kind of dodgy traffic like a torrent search mirror all https as well. They would get a million IP's each month to log, all https connections and huge amounts of data going from point to point.

    Total cost about £80pm for secure voice comms with no tracking of converstations through IPs or relying on unsecure proxy or anonymising services. RIp act might ask for keys but https SSL is taking that a bit too far, phones could use any connection available from a wireless cafe, unsecured wifi, 3G, even GSM at a push.

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  12. Chris Cartledge


    I think you may be wrong to equate "requests for communication data" with phone taps. Consider for example, a request for a call log following the theft of a mobile phone.

  13. Phil Endecott

    1 person in 240

    That's one person out of 240 had their phone tapped in that period.

    Bloody hell.

    Any guess how many the Stasi managed?

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  15. el_zorro

    Watching the Watchmen

    Richard Stallman's brilliant summary of this issue resonates with my own feeling -

    I heard that the first group to seek exemption from the new surveillance powers were the very same elite group of senior figures who sought to impose the controls - apparently they were concerned that details of their dodgy financial dealings, extra marital affairs and/or children's drug habits might be brought under unwanted public scrutiny.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I mean seriously, how much does it cost to set up a phone tap, record all the conversations, transcribe them, check through for useful information. Especially when you compare it to how much it would cost to send a van out to pick up someone's manky old mattress dumped by the side of a road and dump it in the proper place.

    Nice to see the local councils making good use of their budgets to tackle the really serious social issues!!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quarter of a million?

    Would anyone like to estimate the cumulative total of how much civil service time would have to be spent reading and signing cases for 250,000 intercepts?

    ah silly me, they don't read them and authorise them with a stamp.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Time to encrypt

    With the Government and its minions (I.e. Police, GCHQ, MI5, and even your local council!!) spying on the public, ALL should consider encrypting both voice and email communications.

    Not only does the above document describes methods to anonymously use the Internet, but also includes a method to thwart RIPA Pt 3 legislation which came into force on 1st October.

    More 'must' visit sites;

  19. Mo

    It's great that the taps helped catch people

    …but if you cast a net wide enough, you'll always catch something.

    What proportion of the taps resulted in successful prosecution, and what proportion didn't?

    I have a sneaking feeling the proportions will be something similar to the number of successful prosecutions on the back of holding somebody without charge under prevention of terrorism laws.

  20. alex dekker

    Definition of a phone tap?

    What do you mean by phone tap? Actual eavesdropping on a live conversation, or merely call detail records for a line? The article does not make this clear, but judging by comments here most other readers assume it means the former.

  21. Steve Browne
    Black Helicopters

    Nothing to hide/Nothing to fear ?

    What has happened to the NTHNTF crowd, have they suddenly woken up to the reality of the Stasi forces in Bliar's Britain?

    I have advocated many times that his level of surveillance is bad for society. That the government and ALL of its agencies should be limited in what they do. While the courts are far form perfect, especially the magistrates (often labelled police courts), at least there is someone to argue a case in public, where the shameful deeds of the government can be scrutinised.

    How about, the council authorises a wire tap to find a fly tipper. Simple. But, they put your number in by mistake. The listener hears you talking to your girl friend, does she tell your wife who is in the HR department upstairs? There are a lot of people in councils who abuse their positions, with only a 1 in 250 chance of being caught, it cannot be beyond the realms of possibility for disaffected spouses etc to issue an order. As no one is looking, no one might notice.

    One group of figures that was missing from the numbers reported, was the number of children saved from paedophiles, the number of muslims arrested for terrorism, the number of illegal immigrants arrested and deported or the number of drug dealers arrested.

    MI5 did mention they were watching 2000 people. Eliminating 2000 from the number monitored leaves 251,000 (ish). So, who was monitoring these, they can't all have been fly tipping. I think more explanation of these figures is necessary too.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    dont forget...

    In the title it says 250k phone tap licenses and in the story says "253,557 requests for communication data", now which is it?? 253,557 phone taps for 253,557 requests for communication data? There's a severe difference.

    Also don't forget one of these (I'm fairly sure) has to be issued to help identify anonymous someone whose been getting abusive calls can take legal action in which a RIPA has to be issued...

  23. Red Bren
    Black Helicopters


    "Were these individual items or taps on 250,000 individuals?"

    If 250k phones have been tapped, there's potential for far more than 500k people's conversations to be recorded. If the average person calls or is called by just 10 different people, that's 2.5 million people effectively tapped! Okay, my figures are utterly lacking in statistical rigour, but if there are only 7 degrees of separation between indiviudals, what is the minimum number of eavesdropping devices required to intercept everyone at least once?

  24. Steven Walker

    Properly authorised phone taps should be considered admissible evidence in the courts.

    The Government and security forces bitterly resist that idea. The statement is superficially attractive until you consider the other side of the coin. If the wire taps are admissible in court the defence will be entitled to have access to them.

    The results of a wire tap could provide evidence of innocence as well as guilt. More importantly the security forces prefer to keep the existence of wire taps secret as it could give a lot of information as to what they know and who they are watching.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  25. 3x2

    @ Councils

    historically one of the most corrupt councils in the world let alone the UK. No way Jose...........

    Read the RIPA act - it's been in place for years. As someone pointed out a long time ago - it would be simpler to list those who can't get an intercept.

    Try this one ...

    Bear in mind this is School ie the under 16's

    <quote>This is where a third party is used to make contact with named individual(s) to gather information. This is not an option that schools should be using minors for, in order to gather information against a third party.</quote>

    As I said earlier - worried yet?

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Stop the Spying

    Looks like warmonger Blair and his paranoid spook cronies aren't the only ones overstepping their remit by fervently spying on the people they are supposed to represent -

    At least our friends over the pond who value their democratic right to privacy and freedom of speech have the good sense to protest this facist madness.

  27. daniel

    Give up freedom for security...

    and end up having neither.


    UK may have freedom of speach, but the governement seem now have the freedom to invade privacy. All in the name of Terror (tm).

    WTF are local councils doing requesting (and getting!) wiretaps?

    Is there no Mr. Justice somthing that looks at the legal side of the invasion of privacy? No, just an apointee, named by a man that about just under half the nation do not want (well, currently wth Mr. Brown, we do not know, as he has done even better than G.W. Bush and got to be PM without ever getting elected - So did Charles de Gaulle by the way, but he had the interests of France in mind, whereas Brown served cheap babysham in place of Champaign at his wedding the cheap git...)

    Governements have given in to Terror (tm), and even today, with what they do, have they killed the IRA and all the other northen irleland secular killings? Not really. We were told never to give up. Churchill said so, Maggie said so, but now the major powers of the world seem to be limp wristed micromanaging power hungry political animals... At least Putin has the guts to bump his opponents off and waive 2 fingers at the USA and the rest...


  28. 3x2

    @@ 3x2

    <...>If the average person calls or is called by just 10 different people, that's 2.5 million people effectively tapped! <...>

    That's what I was getting at - even a single phone call involves at least one other person.

    My understanding is that US Judges have a phrase for this kind of activity - a fishing expedition - which is why even here it used to require judicial oversight. Now you just send in the forms and as long as you are in the 1000+ organisations authorised - no problem.

    <...> MI5 did mention they were watching 2000 people <...>

    It's not MI5 or the Police I'm worried about it's the idea of someone in my local council reading my [or anyone else's] mail or any other communication - period. Forget proper oversight, why does a drone in my local authority need such powers at all?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    nothing new

    This stuff has been going on for a very long time in the UK, way before el presidente Blair got there (no I'm certainly no fan). In with those requests will be potentially several numbers for a person and their known associates/family, or block monitors (500+ numbers at a time - just to have a look).

    In the hands of proper intelligence agencies it is safe, valid and incredibly tightly controlled, but I certainly don't agree with government/council access as they're not specialists with highly vetted backgrounds and tight controls, and they certainly can't be trusted with confidentiality.

  30. Slaine
    Black Helicopters

    Good job we're not living in a Police State eh?

    Since we are already all too well aware of the government's track record on secure storage and transmission of sensitive data; their history of failing to declare facts required by laws they put in place themselves; their consistency when it comes to consulting with the general public regarding matters of concern to the entire nation; and their dedication to ensuring that promises made to the electorate are carried out efficiently... it makes me so very glad to know that the old adage still holds true... "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they are NOT following you".

  31. amanfromMars Silver badge

    A Change is Better than any Rest

    "In the hands of proper intelligence agencies it is safe, valid and incredibly tightly controlled, ...."

    Now there's a comment which requires investigation/further comment.

    What is a proper intelligence agency? And do we have any? I would suggest that we do not because Intelligence is not running things and is not seen/perceived to be running things.

    And should they counter that with .... Oh yes we are ...... then it will be countered with the question .... Why is it being run so badly without Intelligence and/or ITs IntelAIgents leading then?

    Methinks the present set-up/present set-ups are a Con and a miserable one at that, with them being no more than a knee-jerk reaction force to ........ well, whatever a proper intelligence agency would dare to care to share or any permutation of those verbs/action words.

    And they are obviously hampered and hamstrung and cowed into such a preposterous position because they may think/know that their every thought if communicated, is capable of being monitored....... which might be the truth if one would be known Person of Interest but then again could also be a very convenient lie.

    Methinks that they could do with a much better Service that Leads with Intelligence for others to Follow rather than battle against that which others are following. However, I'm sure we can all appreciate that that simple Change would have the Establishment outraged in their Arrogance and Ignorance because it would be tantamount to an Admission that they have been feathering their own nests and perpetrating a global Fraud in not leading with Intelligence but battling against IT...... However, as it is a global phenomenon afflicting all ther would be no Real Blame or Shame although whether one could avoid acute embarrassment is quite another, fortunately irrelevant matter.

    What would be more deeply damaging and indicative of what would be a private coup/travesty of parliamentary democracy, would be that there be no positive ProActive lead shown by Intelligence which can be blindly followed by All. Although one would have to accept that one would not necessarily know from whom, or from what, such Intelligence would come. At the end of the day, who would care just as long as it wasn't just reacting to circumstances being led by others.

    And the smiley for Deadhead fans.

  32. heystoopid

    My my

    My my from that volume of telephone taps it would appear to more like usual number that police forces need to keep track of criminal gangs , associates the coming and going of US DEA Agents(nobody trusts them) or drug importers , people smugglers or just the usual fringe dwellers of society whose only income is from a dishonest living !

    As for the other war on terrorism most of that is fought in the mass media of shameful propaganda and scandal ! For after all, given the paranoia and their tight fisted budgets they are more likely to spy on each other , to see whom is getting the better biscuits for the morning tea break and what dirt they can find on the self wanking politicians at the direct instruction of their political paymasters !

    Alas for the most part 99.985% of those selected as persons of interest just live boring urban lives as the information that was fed to these departments was pure crap and full of conjecture and totally contaminated misinformation snake oil 99.985% of the time any way , like what happened to one poor unfortunate Canadian Citizen a certain ex General left in the too hard basket over at Foggy Bottom !

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @nothing new, 2000 RIPA act, Warrantless Wiretaps at Whim

    What's new is the RIPA act created in 2000 (that was before 9/11). It removed the need for court orders to intercept communications, get emails, URLS, tap phone conversation, bank details etc. and expanded the number of agencies that could get these warrantless wiretaps at whim.

    Unfortunately Parliament weren't happy about it, so Blair had to tone it down and expanded the list bit-by-bit. By 2003 Blair had increased it to almost every agency, Jobcentres, Fire stations, local councils... at least count it was 1000+.

    His one compromise was to limit it to designated people within each agency, but lots of his political appointee friends were on that list.

    I tell you 60% of MPs have been RIPA'd for phone/financial/email/etc. details and 10% currently RIPAd.

    Steve: "Properly authorised phone taps should be considered admissible evidence in the courts. "

    Do you imagine if any of these people had to go to court and show due cause why they should be allowed a wiretap, or access to the persons financial records, or email or SMSs... or medical records... or any of the other things you can get with a RIPA order, that they would bother? It'd only because it's so easy to just go take a look.

    Also what is the total RIPA orders then? 250k is for wiretaps, (matches what the BT guy claimed), how many banks have had RIPAs, how many RIPA has ElReg and it's ISPs had?

    ElReg have you guys ever had a RIPA order? Since the regulator is releasing the number it means it's legal to reveal the number of RIPAs, even if it's an offence to reveal the details of one. (I'm guessing none, if they wanted details they'd go to Rackspace since they are known to be more compliant.)

    So banks, building societies, hospitals etc. could release the total number of Blair Ripa orders issued and we could see how deep a hole that little lying s**** dug for us.

  34. Spleen


    "In the hands of proper intelligence agencies it is safe, valid and incredibly tightly controlled"

    A proper intelligence agency? Like the ones that told us Saddam had WMDs, release regular reports to the credulous press that terrorists are constantly plotting more 9/11s but are always foiled in the nick of time like on Spooks and 24, and that spend most of their time kidnapping random people, including British citizens, to torture for years on end without hope of release? Maybe if they had more wiretap powers they wouldn't accuse people of being at a terrorist rally in Afghanistan when at the time of the rally they were locked up in a British jail or working at that hotbed of Islamic extremism, Curry's. Yeah, right.

    And those are the intelligent agencies of supposedly democratic and free nations, we haven't even touched on the Stasis or the KGBs. A "proper intelligence agency" with a dispassionate mind and respect for the values and freedoms of its citizens would appear to be a theoretical construct.

  35. Tom
    Paris Hilton


    How many of you idiots have posted asking if they meant data or actual recordings? It says it at the end of the bloodt article! Morons!

    Paris, because you share the same IQ bracket.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Self assessed, not disclosed, data

    The problem here is that a huge number of agencies can issue secret orders to obtain data.

    The recipient cannot verify the order is authorized correctly because he must keep it secret. i.e. the authentiticy of the order itself cannot be checked.

    The order is not checked by a court, the limits on the demand for data are not checked by a court, so the claim that it is restricted to this data or that data is meaningless. i.e. the limits on what data can be obtained are never checked.

    The authorization of that order is not done by a court and the court does not check that it was approved by an authorized person. i.e. the authorized person limit is meaningless as it is not checked.

    Moreover the person requesting the data does not have to show to a court that their claim for data has any merit. i.e. the limits on the circumstance they can ask for the data are meaningless, because they are never checked..

    The watchdog's word is also meaningless, because there's no mechanism that would force disclosure to him of all the issued RIPAs. He can go investigate for them, but where would he begin to look? To investigate RIPAs not issued correcly, he would have to get every body that could receive a RIPA to disclose the details to him, and cross check that with the ones he knows about. Such a task is not possible.

    They need to go back, put the damn court check back in the law. Everyone has the right to privacy protected by judicial process.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    A request for Communications Data is NOT a phone tap

    For god's sake people - be paranoid and question the state, but at least be clear on your facts.

    "Communications Data" (as defined in RIPA) can range from a subscriber's address (as requested by a local council trying to locate someone avoiding their Council Tax) to an actual record of calls made by a subscriber line (as requested by Police in pursuit of a serious crime) - it is not, and has never been, possible to request the contents (i.e. intercept) of a communication in this method, merely (at most) that a communication took place.

    They do not require warrants either - they are approved by individuals within the organisation who makes the request and must be proportionate, thus it is those that have been subject to review.

    Intercept of communications (as defined under RIPA) to listen to a call, do indeed require a warrant, but they have absolutely nothing to do with this article.

    Sick Vulture as I'm a long-term fan of el reg and I don't like seeing you make such basic errors.

  38. Tom Chiverton
    Thumb Down


    "just talking about something can't be considered a crime on its own"

    Dude, you missed the 'incitement' anti-free speech measures this country acquired last year...

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    RE: Tom

    If you noticed they actually EDITED the article, so thats why so many people were posting it.

    Paris, because Tom has a smaller IQ than Paris.

    quote tom: How many of you idiots have posted asking if they meant data or actual recordings? It says it at the end of the bloodt article! Morons!

    Paris, because you share the same IQ bracket.

  40. Peter Fairbrother

    Communications data demands and interceptions

    The 253,557 figure is for communications data demands - which may be as simple as getting the address associated with a telephone number (RDQ's, reverse directory enquiries, in the parlance) which account for the majority of them, or as invasive as getting a list of numbers called, or tracing someone's movements from their cell 'phone. I can't recall the figure for the previous year offhand, but it wasn't very different.

    Actual telephone and snailmail interceptions are much rarer, and require a warrant signed by a Minister - according to the report there were 1333 warrants issued by the Home Secretary in the nine months it covers in England and Wales, and 104 in Scotland. This is actually #down# on the previous 2005 figure of about 2500 (from memory). This does not give the entire picture, as warrants issued by the Foreign and Northern Ireland Secretaries aren't included, but those are generally thought to be less in number .

    I have long thought and said that RDQ's should be separated from more invasive types of communications data demands, but the Home Office weren't listening. It's probably fine that eg a Senior Policeman signs a RDQ request, but IMO the more invasive requests should require a Court order. Apart from that and Ministers rather than Courts signing interception warrants, I don't think parts I and II of RIPA, which cover this stuff, are actually all that bad - unlike part III, the coercive demand-for-keys part, which stinks.

  41. Yeah Right

    We sell ultra-secure comms

    As a provider of unbeatable secure mobile communications I'm tempted to give our stuff away for free, maybe not, I like all that money, although at this rate I'll never be able to spend it all. The UK government is really helping sales! {almost as much as the US}

    It doesn't seem fair that it's only the poor people who have to worry about being bugged. They can try and bug my phone any time they like. In fact I invite them to try [they'll want to buy it too] - after all remember the standard of intelligence available to the government on the crappy salaries they pay guarantees that only the easy targets are at risk - the poor Iraqi's and people living in council flats.

    With so many people using mobiles they have little chance of processing all that info anyway and if you think their computers can do it just remember what fun you had last time you used a speech recognition system - it's a bit like trying to interpret an Indian call centre operator. To stay out of 'earshot' just don't give the council or the government your phone number.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Peter Fairbrother

    Do you know I have this problem, and it's that I read some comments on a private security list from a 'claimed' BT engineer and he said the official number was 2K, the unofficial number was 200k+ intercepts, with 60% of MPs targetted and 10% currently targetted.

    Maybe he was a troll, but then along comes this story and it says 250k requests for data. I go WTF???? 250k? Are you serious?

    Then I recall the story about the key disclosure. An animal rights activist received a RIPA request for her PGP keys. Only when her lawyer read it, it was not of the form of a RIPA, it was a demand to give up the PGP keys or they would use their RIPA right to prosecute her. i.e. It was an order that leveraged the RIPA act but that would not be in the 250k figure. A sort of pseudo RIPA.

    So I think those requests would be so easy to issue that, simply a letter referencing the RIPA act, that the request number is likely to be far higher. > 500k, or > 1 million, or even >5 million. With the bulk of requests simply leveraging the *threat* of RIPA act use, since the RIPA act for these requests has no controls, there is no reason a person would not comply with the simple threat, since the RIPA order is just a formality at that point.

    I bet it's been used by PIs and phishers too, since pretexting is common and this order is ripe for prextexting.

    So there seems to be a huge number of problems with this law. If I were to receive one, I would not be able to tell if it had been issued legally. I would not know who to check with, without breaking the terms of the RIPA order. I have no confidence that it is issued for prevention of crime purposes, because the check is non existent. The wording of the 'traffic data' section is so vague, I would hand over emails if asked and surfing URLs, unencrypted passwords that happened to be in the traffic etc. VOIP traffic, voicemail keys.

    What I'd like to see is RIPAs replaced with court orders. i.e. a proper separation of executive and judicial for RIPA. So that a person requested to give up data can receive a proper court order, from a proper court that can be verified, that has had someone swear to the truth of their request. Even with Chief Constables. There's simply no reason for free exchange of data without even the semblence of a judicial check for the legality of it.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where is the list of organisations?

    No-one has published a link to the list of people allowed to make an interception request.

    Is there one?

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