Judges examine rise in complaints against MI5

Watchdog will investigate Muslims' claims of harassment and blackmail
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A record rise in the number of complaints against MI5 and other bodies authorised to spy on the public is being investigated by judges appointed to oversee the use of surveillance powers in Britain.

Some of the allegations brought to the attention of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, include claims of harassment against officers working for the Security Service, MI5. Others concern the alleged misuse of surveillance by local authorities.

The tribunal judges, who oversee the work of MI5 and other law enforcement agencies authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, confirmed yesterday that they were looking at why the number of complaints had more than doubled from 66 in 2007 to 136 in 2008.

But critics of the secret system for investigating the misuse of surveillance powers want to know why only three complaints investigated by the tribunal have ever been upheld.

Six of the most recent allegations, not included in the 136, have been brought by young Muslim men living in London who allege that they were harassed and blackmailed by MI5 to spy on Muslim communities.

Yesterday The Independent reported on two men of Somali origin living in Birmingham who have made similar complaints. All eight men allege they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or facing detention or harassment in the UK and overseas.

Three of the London men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays in 2008. They claim they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism and said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused to spy on their communities some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats. Two of the London men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen.

A spokesman for the tribunal said that it could not confirm or deny any specific complaint was being investigated. But he said the tribunal judges and their advisers were looking at the reasons why so many more members of the public had brought complaints in the last two years.

However, the spokesman declined to disclose which law enforcement agency or public body had received the most complaints. He said the reason only three complaints had ever been upheld was because either the behaviour complained of had been lawful or the complainant had not been targeted at all.