Civil liberty groups fear an encroachment as snooping orders double
CAMPAIGNERS have reacted with concern to figures which show that the number of undercover “intrusive” police surveillance operations in Scotland has doubled in the past three years.
According to the 2016 report from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, the number of authorisations for “intrusive surveillance” has been rising steadily, leading to campaigners to raise questions over their necessity and accuracy.
Police Scotland have stated that the rapid increase is due to the need to fight terrorism and organised crime, although no statistics supports any rise in Scotland in either area over the past three years.
“The police record in deploying undercover officers against political activists makes it hard to be confident that this is what the police are doing.” Richard Haley
Richard Haley, chair of the civil liberties group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) told CommonSpace: “The rise in the number of intrusive surveillance operations is worrying. intrusive surveillance might be justifiable in connection with serious crimes, but the police record in deploying undercover officers against political activists makes it hard to be confident that this is what the police are doing.
“It would be very interesting to know how many of these surveillance operations have led to convictions.”
Police Scotland applied for permission to conduct just nine intrusive surveillance operations in 2013-14. However, the following year, 2014-15, it had risen to 12 and last year, 2015-16, the number had risen to 19.
Table showing the decline of terrorism-related cases in Scotland in both case brought and convictions
Scottish security experts have stated that police can apply for permission to conduct intrusive surveillance’ under the UK Government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) if they believe that officers will be able to gather information leading to arrests. Additionally, they cite improved technology used by terrorists and organised crime syndicates as a reason to increase undercover tactics.
Yet it was only last year that Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson, head of Police Scotland’s organised crime and counter-terrorism unit, said there are “no known threats” north of the border despite the rise in attacks across Europe.
According to a 2016 House of Commons briefing report, there were 141 convictions for offences under the Terrorism Act 2000, the anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2006 and the Terrorism Act 2006 in Scotland.
If the data is broken down further it shows that 112 of those convictions were prosecuted in Stranraer and were offences relating to port and border controls under the Terrorism Act 2000.
“Considering Police Scotland has been found to have breached spying laws in the past, people will want assurances that each of these cases of surveillance was proportionate and permission acquired through proper means.” Liam McArthur
Under RIPA powers, the police can install listening devices or hidden cameras to monitor and record people in cars, houses, hotel rooms or prison cells. However, such actions in public spaces such as hotel reception rooms or cafes are expressly forbidden.
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson for home affairs and crime, Liam McArthur MSP, said: “Considering Police Scotland has been found to have breached spying laws in the past, people will want assurances that each of these cases of surveillance was proportionate and permission acquired through proper means.”
Police Scotland in response to the concerns raised by campaigners said all requests made for intrusive surveillance had met “rigorous standards” and had been approved by a senior police officer and the surveillance commissioner. However, they did not comment on how many of the surveillance operations had lead to convictions.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The authorisation of intrusive surveillance is an operational matter for Police Scotland and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act stipulates that authorisations must always be necessary and proportionate. Before any operational action can be taken, authorisations for intrusive surveillance must be approved by the independent Office of Surveillance Commissioners.”
Picture courtesy of James Stewart
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