How Scots police “snoop” on us 53 times a day

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SCOTTISH police snoop on an average of 53 phone calls and emails every day, according to a senior politician.

The head of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, Christine Grahame, warned police powers could turn into a “snoopers’ charter”.

The nationalist MSP claimed the force is monitoring a total of almost 20,000 calls and emails every year.

The email and phone records of anybody in the country can be requested by police and other authorities in Scotland under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

After getting permission, police officers as well as council officials and members of the security services, can look into computer records and delve into phone data looking for incriminating evidence.

Police Scotland uses its surveillance powers to intercept around 20,000 emails and phone calls annually
Police Scotland uses its surveillance powers to intercept around 20,000 emails and phone calls annually

 

There were 19,390 requests made in Scotland for email and phone records in 2013 with most of the police authorisations used to combat organised crime rather than terrorism.

Authorities are allowed to view email addresses used and all phone numbers dialled or texted although they are not given permission to see the content of emails or listen to particular telephone conversations.

But the scale of state snooping has made the justice committee, currently conducting an enquiry into the powers to monitor communications, uneasy.

Ms Grahame said these methods were needed to help defeat organised crime but she and her fellow committee members had concerns about the extent of surveillance.

She warned: “I acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to get to detailed information on organised crime without using these powers but we have to careful in case it turns into a snoopers’ charter.”

John Scott, QC Solicitor Advocate and Chair of Justice Scotland, said: “I think it is undoubtedly the case it has been used as a snoopers’ charter.

“Councils have used it for all sorts of completely trivial purposes which it was never intended for.

“Christine Grahame is right to express concerns.”

Asked if he believed police at times used the legislation as a fishing exercise Mr Scott said: “That’s what it looks like sometimes, yes.”

He continued: “It’s difficult because you need to have a balance. It’s important they [the Police] are not simply able to do what they want whenever they want.

“Occasionally you get the impression that not very much information is being put to launch applications.

“I would say there is not complete trust in the process.”

Emma Carr, director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said some people are already being wrongly snooped on.

“The Government needs to urgently address the fact that there have been multiple warning that spying powers are being overused by some police forces,” she said.

“If the Government fails to address these serious points, we can already know that there will be many members of the public who will be wrongly spied on and accused without any knowledge of this fact or a right or redress.

A police spokesman defended the use of the powers claiming that officers had to use more sophisticated methods to gather evidence.

He added that there were tough safeguards built into the system to prevent abuse.

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