UK spy overseer: Snooper's Charter cockups are still getting innocents arrested

IPCO report also lets us recognise Britain's Creepiest Council 2017


Police employees who make typos in warrants to use Snooper’s Charter spy powers are still getting innocent people arrested, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s delayed annual report has revealed.

Of the 18 “error investigations” carried out by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) into the misuse of legal snooping powers by State agencies, the vast majority of wrongful police raids and arrests came about because police workers transposed vital data (such as dates, times or IP addresses) or even made careless typos when writing out applications for search warrants.

These blunders led to innocent people being arrested and accused by police of the most vile crimes – people such as Nigel Lang, whose life was blighted for two years after a typo led a police raid, wholly wrongly, to his home on suspicion that he was a paedophile.

Lang’s case was mentioned in an anonymised form in IPCO’s delayed 2017 report [PDF] which was laid before Parliament yesterday. Hertfordshire Police later confessed they added a digit to an IP address by mistake, leading them to wrongly identify Lang and send South Yorkshire Police, his local force, after him. Herts paid £60,000 in compensation once Lang identified who was responsible.

Generally, everything’s OK

As well as keeping an eye on police uses of the Snooper’s Charter (perhaps better known nowadays as the Investigatory Powers Act), IPCO also oversees MI5, MI6, local councils, fire and ambulance services, and a whole host of other State bodies who have the legal right to spy on your phonecalls and internet use.

Encouragingly, Lord Justice Adrian Fulford, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, found that “many local authorities are using their directed surveillance powers less frequently than a decade ago” and that most fire brigades and ambulance services weren’t doing any snooping at all.

However, Hammersmith Council wins the inglorious title of “Britain’s Creepiest Council” from The Register after applying to get its greasy fingers on an average of 79 pieces of communications data about local residents it decided to target.

While IPCO criticised GCHQ for not always setting out “the scale of the planned surveillance sufficiently and therefore the likely level of intrusion” in its surveillance warrants, and also raised questions about the use of “parties acting on GCHQ’s behalf” (ie, contractors doing work for the agency), it praised the agency for later cleaning up its act and “providing a succinct summary of the relevant considerations”.

MI5, on the other hand, had a tendency to use “boilerplate text in applications”, according to IPCO, rather than making each application for surveillance on its merits.

Government hackers and bug-planters broke the law 83 times during 2017-18 while carrying out “property interference”, IPCO found.

In light of recent concern about police deploying uncontrolled facial recognition technology, IPCO offered little comfort, however, with Lord Justice Fulford writing: “There has been some recent controversy regarding the use of facial software by police forces. I oversee any conduct that requires surveillance authorisation, but neither Parliament nor the courts have yet established a framework against which to judge this particular activity.”

On the whole, most of the cases where surveillance had not complied with the law and IPSO itself had investigated were caused by human error – though some were most definitely not.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Twitter founder Dorsey beats hasty retweet from the board
    As shareholders sue the social network amid Elon Musk's takeover scramble

    Twitter has officially entered the post-Dorsey age: its founder and two-time CEO's board term expired Wednesday, marking the first time the social media company hasn't had him around in some capacity.

    Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter chief exec in November 2021, and passed the baton to Parag Agrawal while remaining on the board. Now that board term has ended, and Dorsey has stepped down as expected. Agrawal has taken Dorsey's board seat; Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor has assumed the role of Twitter's board chair. 

    In his resignation announcement, Dorsey – who co-founded and is CEO of Block (formerly Square) – said having founders leading the companies they created can be severely limiting for an organization and can serve as a single point of failure. "I believe it's critical a company can stand on its own, free of its founder's influence or direction," Dorsey said. He didn't respond to a request for further comment today. 

    Continue reading
  • Snowflake stock drops as some top customers cut usage
    You might say its valuation is melting away

    IPO darling Snowflake's share price took a beating in an already bearish market for tech stocks after filing weaker than expected financial guidance amid a slowdown in orders from some of its largest customers.

    For its first quarter of fiscal 2023, ended April 30, Snowflake's revenue grew 85 percent year-on-year to $422.4 million. The company made an operating loss of $188.8 million, albeit down from $205.6 million a year ago.

    Although surpassing revenue expectations, the cloud-based data warehousing business saw its valuation tumble 16 percent in extended trading on Wednesday. Its stock price dived from $133 apiece to $117 in after-hours trading, and today is cruising back at $127. That stumble arrived amid a general tech stock sell-off some observers said was overdue.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon investors nuke proposed ethics overhaul and say yes to $212m CEO pay
    Workplace safety, labor organizing, sustainability and, um, wage 'fairness' all struck down in vote

    Amazon CEO Andy Jassy's first shareholder meeting was a rousing success for Amazon leadership and Jassy's bank account. But for activist investors intent on making Amazon more open and transparent, it was nothing short of a disaster.

    While actual voting results haven't been released yet, Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky told Reuters that stock owners voted down fifteen shareholder resolutions addressing topics including workplace safety, labor organizing, sustainability, and pay fairness. Amazon's board recommended voting no on all of the proposals.

    Jassy and the board scored additional victories in the form of shareholder approval for board appointments, executive compensation and a 20-for-1 stock split. Jassy's executive compensation package, which is tied to Amazon stock price and mostly delivered as stock awards over a multi-year period, was $212 million in 2021. 

    Continue reading
  • Confirmed: Broadcom, VMware agree to $61b merger
    Unless anyone out there can make a better offer. Oh, Elon?

    Broadcom has confirmed it intends to acquire VMware in a deal that looks set to be worth $61 billion, if it goes ahead: the agreement provides for a “go-shop” provision under which the virtualization giant may solicit alternative offers.

    Rumors of the proposed merger emerged earlier this week, amid much speculation, but neither of the companies was prepared to comment on the deal before today, when it was disclosed that the boards of directors of both organizations have unanimously approved the agreement.

    Michael Dell and Silver Lake investors, which own just over half of the outstanding shares in VMware between both, have apparently signed support agreements to vote in favor of the transaction, so long as the VMware board continues to recommend the proposed transaction with chip designer Broadcom.

    Continue reading
  • Perl Steering Council lays out a backwards compatible future for Perl 7
    Sensibly written code only, please. Plus: what all those 'heated discussions' were about

    The much-anticipated Perl 7 continues to twinkle in the distance although the final release of 5.36.0 is "just around the corner", according to the Perl Steering Council.

    Well into its fourth decade, the fortunes of Perl have ebbed and flowed over the years. Things came to a head last year, with the departure of former "pumpking" Sawyer X, following what he described as community "hostility."

    Part of the issue stemmed from the planned version 7 release, a key element of which, according to a post by the steering council "was to significantly reduce the boilerplate needed at the top of your code, by enabling a lot of widely used modules / pragmas."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022