Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Interception Commissioner lashes out

Sir Swinton Thomas, Interception of Communications Commissioner, has left his post with a bang. In his annual report for 2005-2006 he attacks the idea that intercepted communications could be used as evidence in court, as called for by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the government's own reviews of anti-terrorism policy. He also criticises the "Wilson doctrine" that members of parliament should not be wiretapped as "absurd."

Thomas is well-known for being remarkably cosy with the intelligence agencies and police forces that he is supposed to regulate. His annual reports have all contained details of serious breaches of the law, which are brushed aside by gushing praise for the dedication of those he oversees. In fact, 2006 saw a ruling by the quasi-judicial Investigatory Powers Tribunal that the Metropolitan police had illegally wiretapped one of their own most senior officers. This echoes the case of Alison Halford, whose wiretapping by her own force during a sex discrimination action led to the current UK legislation on interception.

If Thomas thinks that the Wilson doctrine is not an entirely appropriate protection for the rule of law and democracy in the UK, he has spent far too much time in post talking to spy chiefs. It is fortunate that he was replaced last summer by the Rt. Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy.

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