Should Hampshire Police and Southampton City Council have 'snooping' powers?

Watching You: George Orwell's 1984

Watching You: George Orwell's 1984

First published in News
Last updated
Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Political reporter

IT is more than 65 years since George Orwell created the concept of the all-seeing Big Brother for his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Big Brother was one of the devices used by the totalitarian state to keep its citizens on side and in line.

The novel turned out to be a chilling prophecy of things to come.

And today it seems we have never been more at risk of being observed in our daily activities.

The growth of closed-circuit television, which seems to follow our every move, has been shadowed by a rise in the use of covert monitoring by police and councils.

Terrorism Anyone suspected of committing an offence – from serious crimes including terrorism to what some would consider to be no more than minor misdemeanours – could have their emails read, their phone calls monitored or even be filmed secretly.

The controversial practices are used dozens of times a week in Hampshire, a new report by a surveillance watchdog revealed this week.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013.

It also revealed that Southampton City Council used the surveillance powers 81 times last year – the third most of any council.

The commissioner Sir Anthony May has called for an inquiry into the snooping, and campaigners have today made renewed calls to curb its use.

The powers to intercept communications were brought in under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2000 with the intention of tackling terrorism.

They allow public bodies such as police forces and councils to request authorisation from the Government to find out who owns a phone, email address or computer IP address, who they were communicating with, where they used their device, and when.

But they are not able to find out what was said in the communication.

Public bodies can only ask to access the information in the interest of national security, to detect crime, prevent disorder or a risk to public safety or public health, or in the interests of the country’s economic well-being.

Sir Anthony found that authorities had made 514,608 requests for communications last year, compared to 570,135 in 2012 and 494,078 in 2011.

The commissioner is now calling for his inspectors to look into the practice, and see if it is being “over-used” by authorities throughout the country.

Hampshire police used the powers 8,818 times in 2013 – almost 170 times every week.

The police have said the powers were “carefully used and moderated” but refused to provide further details on their use due to operational reasons.

Southampton City Council used them 81 times, having only used them 20 times in 2010-11, 36 in 2009-10 and 26 in 2008-09.

The council was unable to provide a comment on what the powers were used for, or why there had been such a big rise, as the two members of staff who dealt with surveillance were not available.

But the council has previously used the powers to investigate blue parking badge fraud, identifying people responsible for criminal damage, the sale of alcohol or fireworks to underage youngsters, benefit fraud and environmental crime.

Council leader Simon Letts defended the council’s use of the practice, saying: “To my understanding, we will use these powers when we think the public purse is being defrauded.

“No one wants people to be fraudulently claiming housing benefit or other benefits.”

Daily Echo: Cllr Simon Letts.

Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts

But the practice has proven controversial, with civil liberties groups calling for a curb on its use after a number of high-profile cases.

Poole Borough Council used the powers to spy on Jenny Paton’s family 21 times to see if they lived in the right school catchment area.

The council had received calls from members of the public claiming that the family was not living in their property within the catchment area of an over-subscribed school, instead residing in another property they owned.

But the council was reprimanded for not using the powers properly by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, and that surveillance had breached the family’s right to privacy.

The same council also used the tactics to spy on fishermen suspected of illegally harvesting shellfish in Poole Harbour.

Following Mr May’s report, there have been renewed calls for Government action over the “over-use” of surveillance.

Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties pressure group Big Brother Watch, said: “The Government needs to urgently address the fact that the Commissioner has grounds to believe some powers are institutionally overused and that the records kept by public authorities are woefully inadequate.

“This does not require new legislation and should not wait until after the election in May 2015.

Daily Echo:

Emma Carr, of Big Brother Watch

“The fact that this report does not include the number of British citizens affected by these powers, or any meaningful detail on what sort of offences are being investigated, is not good enough.

“This report shows that it is possible to be more transparent about how surveillance powers are used without jeopardising security, but there is much more than can and should be done to reassure the public.”

Comments (15)

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3:26pm Sun 13 Apr 14

Charlie Bucket says...

Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead. Charlie Bucket
  • Score: 2

3:27pm Sun 13 Apr 14

normal1965 says...

what a liberty
what a liberty normal1965
  • Score: 0

4:06pm Sun 13 Apr 14

westhantsboy says...

So if I get a stream of abusive calls or texts, these friggin do gooders are now going to prevent the old bill from finding out who is sending them to me. Brainless. The old bill don't indiscriminately go and find someone to check their calls, they do it for a reason .
So if I get a stream of abusive calls or texts, these friggin do gooders are now going to prevent the old bill from finding out who is sending them to me. Brainless. The old bill don't indiscriminately go and find someone to check their calls, they do it for a reason . westhantsboy
  • Score: 2

4:31pm Sun 13 Apr 14

bigfella777 says...

The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013.

What does that actually mean? Everyone was checked 24 times a day? or they just looked at 24 random emails?
The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013. What does that actually mean? Everyone was checked 24 times a day? or they just looked at 24 random emails? bigfella777
  • Score: 6

4:32pm Sun 13 Apr 14

dango says...

Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)
[quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :) dango
  • Score: -6

4:43pm Sun 13 Apr 14

userds5050 says...

Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
For sure. The closest society to Orwell's dystopia is probably North Korea.
[quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]For sure. The closest society to Orwell's dystopia is probably North Korea. userds5050
  • Score: 6

4:46pm Sun 13 Apr 14

userds5050 says...

dango wrote:
Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)
Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.
[quote][p][bold]dango[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)[/p][/quote]Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984. userds5050
  • Score: 6

4:51pm Sun 13 Apr 14

Graeme Harrison says...

Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
I suspect that James has just read 1984 as part of his English GCSE course.
[quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]I suspect that James has just read 1984 as part of his English GCSE course. Graeme Harrison
  • Score: 7

7:34pm Sun 13 Apr 14

dango says...

userds5050 wrote:
dango wrote:
Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)
Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.
Charlie Bucket mentioned Huxley who wrote Brave New World, epsilon semi-morons are a lower set/ class of people in the book :)
[quote][p][bold]userds5050[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]dango[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)[/p][/quote]Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.[/p][/quote]Charlie Bucket mentioned Huxley who wrote Brave New World, epsilon semi-morons are a lower set/ class of people in the book :) dango
  • Score: 2

7:47pm Sun 13 Apr 14

userds5050 says...

dango wrote:
userds5050 wrote:
dango wrote:
Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)
Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.
Charlie Bucket mentioned Huxley who wrote Brave New World, epsilon semi-morons are a lower set/ class of people in the book :)
Oh yeah, sorry.
[quote][p][bold]dango[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]userds5050[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]dango[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)[/p][/quote]Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.[/p][/quote]Charlie Bucket mentioned Huxley who wrote Brave New World, epsilon semi-morons are a lower set/ class of people in the book :)[/p][/quote]Oh yeah, sorry. userds5050
  • Score: 2

7:53pm Sun 13 Apr 14

mi76 says...

bigfella777 wrote:
The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013.

What does that actually mean? Everyone was checked 24 times a day? or they just looked at 24 random emails?
Its absolute nonsense to think the Police/Councils can just look at emails on the hoof. I can assure you that very long forms have to be filled in to justify looking at the type of data they are talking about. In addition Councils have to get Magistrate approval.

It is a fact of life that people have emails and mobiles etc. The type of data they are talking about is finding out who owns a mobile susbcription etc.

In the report it actually says that individual cases are probably justifiable - what needs to be looked at is whether Police/Councisl have just taken to looking at this sort of data as the norm as opposed to looking at alternative ways of achieving the reuslt without intruding on privacy. The Commissioenr says he will look at this for next years report.

Also bear in mind that one single case may raise 5 applications in one go and they do not necessarily relate to different people.
[quote][p][bold]bigfella777[/bold] wrote: The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013. What does that actually mean? Everyone was checked 24 times a day? or they just looked at 24 random emails?[/p][/quote]Its absolute nonsense to think the Police/Councils can just look at emails on the hoof. I can assure you that very long forms have to be filled in to justify looking at the type of data they are talking about. In addition Councils have to get Magistrate approval. It is a fact of life that people have emails and mobiles etc. The type of data they are talking about is finding out who owns a mobile susbcription etc. In the report it actually says that individual cases are probably justifiable - what needs to be looked at is whether Police/Councisl have just taken to looking at this sort of data as the norm as opposed to looking at alternative ways of achieving the reuslt without intruding on privacy. The Commissioenr says he will look at this for next years report. Also bear in mind that one single case may raise 5 applications in one go and they do not necessarily relate to different people. mi76
  • Score: 2

9:31pm Sun 13 Apr 14

House Sparrow says...

24 times per day = 8760 per year. Assume each of these relates to a different person. The population of Hampshire including Southampton and Portsmouth was estimated to be 1 759 700 in 2011. Therefore Hampshire Police are looking at the communication records of a little under 0.005% of the population. Hardly a major snooping operation, and each application to investigate will have to be backed up by good evidence that a crime has been committed.
24 times per day = 8760 per year. Assume each of these relates to a different person. The population of Hampshire including Southampton and Portsmouth was estimated to be 1 759 700 in 2011. Therefore Hampshire Police are looking at the communication records of a little under 0.005% of the population. Hardly a major snooping operation, and each application to investigate will have to be backed up by good evidence that a crime has been committed. House Sparrow
  • Score: 2

7:36am Mon 14 Apr 14

Charlie Bucket says...

dango wrote:
userds5050 wrote:
dango wrote:
Charlie Bucket wrote:
Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book.

It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.
epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)
Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.
Charlie Bucket mentioned Huxley who wrote Brave New World, epsilon semi-morons are a lower set/ class of people in the book :)
Don't worry, I got it.
[quote][p][bold]dango[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]userds5050[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]dango[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Charlie Bucket[/bold] wrote: Would James Franklin, author of this story, explain exactly HOW 1984 proved to be a chilling prophecy of things to come? Seems to me he hasn't even read the book. It's time lazy political journalists stopped trotting out "Big Brother" and "1984" rhetoric constantly to pad out their vacant stories. Like it or not, we do not live in a society even remotely like Orwell's book foresaw. I feel that honour goes to Huxley instead.[/p][/quote]epsilon semi-moron ^^^ :)[/p][/quote]Think you're getting Brave New World confused with 1984.[/p][/quote]Charlie Bucket mentioned Huxley who wrote Brave New World, epsilon semi-morons are a lower set/ class of people in the book :)[/p][/quote]Don't worry, I got it. Charlie Bucket
  • Score: -2

9:43am Mon 14 Apr 14

sotonboy84 says...

mi76 wrote:
bigfella777 wrote:
The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013.

What does that actually mean? Everyone was checked 24 times a day? or they just looked at 24 random emails?
Its absolute nonsense to think the Police/Councils can just look at emails on the hoof. I can assure you that very long forms have to be filled in to justify looking at the type of data they are talking about. In addition Councils have to get Magistrate approval.

It is a fact of life that people have emails and mobiles etc. The type of data they are talking about is finding out who owns a mobile susbcription etc.

In the report it actually says that individual cases are probably justifiable - what needs to be looked at is whether Police/Councisl have just taken to looking at this sort of data as the norm as opposed to looking at alternative ways of achieving the reuslt without intruding on privacy. The Commissioenr says he will look at this for next years report.

Also bear in mind that one single case may raise 5 applications in one go and they do not necessarily relate to different people.
But authorities need to be more transparent and publish figures and costs as well as what reasons they were used for.

I'm sure it's an expensive process to request this information so if as Councillor Letts says, they will use the powers to prevent the public purse from being defrauded, is the public purse being defrauded more by local authorities if they're using these powers 21 times to see if a family are in the correct school catchment area?

The public need to be assured that these powers are not being abused and as its public funds supporting those that use these powers, they need to be clear what they're being used for and if the cost to the taxpayer is justifiable to the intended outcome.
[quote][p][bold]mi76[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]bigfella777[/bold] wrote: The Interception of Communications Commissioner showed that police in Hampshire monitored emails and phone calls 24 times every day over the course of 2013. What does that actually mean? Everyone was checked 24 times a day? or they just looked at 24 random emails?[/p][/quote]Its absolute nonsense to think the Police/Councils can just look at emails on the hoof. I can assure you that very long forms have to be filled in to justify looking at the type of data they are talking about. In addition Councils have to get Magistrate approval. It is a fact of life that people have emails and mobiles etc. The type of data they are talking about is finding out who owns a mobile susbcription etc. In the report it actually says that individual cases are probably justifiable - what needs to be looked at is whether Police/Councisl have just taken to looking at this sort of data as the norm as opposed to looking at alternative ways of achieving the reuslt without intruding on privacy. The Commissioenr says he will look at this for next years report. Also bear in mind that one single case may raise 5 applications in one go and they do not necessarily relate to different people.[/p][/quote]But authorities need to be more transparent and publish figures and costs as well as what reasons they were used for. I'm sure it's an expensive process to request this information so if as Councillor Letts says, they will use the powers to prevent the public purse from being defrauded, is the public purse being defrauded more by local authorities if they're using these powers 21 times to see if a family are in the correct school catchment area? The public need to be assured that these powers are not being abused and as its public funds supporting those that use these powers, they need to be clear what they're being used for and if the cost to the taxpayer is justifiable to the intended outcome. sotonboy84
  • Score: 5

3:28pm Mon 14 Apr 14

lisa whitemore says...

Do Not agree with Council Being able to use as they cant be honest at best of times and find it very suspiscious this labour council have used it more than any others in previous years.
Do Not agree with Council Being able to use as they cant be honest at best of times and find it very suspiscious this labour council have used it more than any others in previous years. lisa whitemore
  • Score: 0

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