Letter: Covert police tactics beyond legal control

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The Independent Online
Covert police tactics beyond legal control

Sir: Facial recognition systems ("The face of crime captured digitally", 3 March) are only one facet of the new generation of "intelligence-led" policing methods. There are other methods, such as the increased reliance on informers, the use of bugging devices and the exchange of intelligence information generally, nationally and internationally.

These methods are largely uncontrolled by law. They are being operated either in accordance with guidelines (video surveillance and informers), or under inadequate legislation not designed for the purpose (facial recognition systems and data protection law).

Even the present Police Bill does not cover all listening devices: only those which "interfere with property" or fall within the definition of "wireless telegraphy". There are present and future generations of bugging techniques - for example, those using infrared light or laser technology - which fall completely outside its provisions.

Intelligence-led methods are covert and intrusive. The Data Protection Act offers protection to individuals in some circumstances, but was not drafted with present-day surveillance techniques in mind. In the absence of a general right to privacy in this country, it is essential that there be specific statutory protection to ensure that such police operations are both fair and accountable, particularly if the evidence gained is to be admissible in any subsequent criminal trial.


Legal Officer


London EC4