Letter: System lets MI5 tap whichever phones they like

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The Independent Online
WHILE it is true the Home Secretary (or his permanent secretary) signs warrants for telephone taps ('Bugging: who knows about it?', 16 May), this is done on the basis of an application of no more than two sentences explaining why the tap is needed. The Home Secretary could ask to see the complete file concerning the person or organisation to satisfy himself it is justified, but never does. So far as I am aware, no application has ever been refused.

Once signed, the warrant can apply to an entire organisation (for example, a trade union) or an individual and all their social and business contacts. Thus one warrant could easily involve the tapping of several hundred separate lines. The system gives MI5 a free hand to tap who they like.

In 1992, 843 warrants were issued, but some 35,000 lines tapped. The Interception Commissioner says he is not concerned at this number, but refuses to say what total would concern him and what he could do about it.

James Rusbridger

Tremorebridge, Cornwall