Police ‘snooped on 50 emails and calls every day’

POLICE in Scotland asked for permission to access private communications data more than 60,000 times in three years, with less than two per cent of all requests refused by senior officers, a new report claims.
Picture: Julie BullPicture: Julie Bull
Picture: Julie Bull

That equates to more than 50 intercepts every day.

Pressure group Big Brother Watch said its research raised transparency concerns at a time when plans are being made to introduce legislation granting agencies greater powers to access information in order to fight crime and terrorism.

Across the UK, forces made 733,237 requests – one every two minutes – for communications data between January 2012 and last December, with 679,073 granted internally and 54,164 (7.9 per cent) rejected.

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Police Scotland approved all but 1.7 per cent of 62,075 requests made, lower than the average refusal rate across all forces of four per cent.

Nobody was available to comment at Police Scotland last night.

Big Brother Watch called for standardised rules governing access to information after finding wide varieties in how many requests were granted, with some forces allowing almost all of the requests for data by officers and others refusing larger 

Renate Samson, its chief executive, said: “Modern policing and the use of technology in investigating crime should be more transparent. We are repeatedly told that communications data plays a significant role in modern policing, yet the reports’ findings pose serious questions about the internal approval process which differs from force to force.

“With police forces making over 730,000 requests for communications data in the past three years, political mutterings of diminishing access to our communications are clearly overstated.

“If greater access to our communications is to be granted, increased transparency and independent judicial approval should be introduced as 

“Until these safeguards exist, the public will have little confidence that the powers to access their communications are being used only when it is truly necessary and proportionate.”

Last week’s Queen’s Speech saw the government lay out plans for the Investigatory Powers Bill, designed to “provide the police and intelligence agencies with the tools to keep you and your family safe”.

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It covers all investigatory powers and is expected to be more wide-ranging than the 2013 Communications Data Bill – labelled a Snooper’s Charter by critics – which was shelved after opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

Released yesterday, Big Brother Watch’s report, Police 
Access to Communications Data, defines the data collected as “the who, where and when of any text, email, phone call or web search”.

It found that the Met made by far the most requests for data, with 177,287 in three years, followed by West Midlands Police (99,444) and Police Scotland.