Bugging law gives police 'spy' role

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The Independent Online
The police will be given powers to enter private properties and plant bugging devices, under legislation to be introduced by the Government later this year.

The Home Office confirmed last night that it forms part of the attempt to redefine the work of MI5 and the police under the Security Service Bill.

It will extend the covert surveillance work by the 43 police forces in England and Wales, and put it on a footing with MI5 which will soon be able to obtain warrants to break into houses and vehicles to plant bugs.

The move follows a power struggle between the police and MI5 over surveillance work. Senior police officers expressed concern that if MI5 was alone in being able legally to plant hidden cameras and recording equipment, it might attempt to take over all bugging operations in England and Wales.

Under the Bill, which is expected to become law later this year, police would obtain a warrant from the Home Secretary which would allow them to break into homes without the owners' knowledge and plant bugging devices.

Although the police have carried out such operations against criminals for years, under guidelines laid down by the Home Secretary in 1984, they have no legal right to enter homes secretly and they have been exposed to civil action for trespass in the past.

In an attempt to reassure civil rights organisations, the police and the Home Office are discussing how the use of surveillance would be properly controlled. The proposals include requiring a warrant from the Home Secretary, or permission from one or two judges who would hear the justifications in private.

The first test case on the legality of using evidence from bugs planted covertly in people's homes is currently before the law lords, and they are expected to rule later this year.