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Investigatory powers review reveals “human errors”

Investigatory powers review reveals “human errors”

Wednesday 04 September 2019

Investigatory powers review reveals “human errors”


An interception warrant signed by the Attorney General which was accidentally destroyed, and the wrong phone being tapped, are among the “human errors” identified as part of an official review.

A total of 39 warrants for interception – also called phone-tapping – were issued last year according to the latest report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, K.B.E., Q.C, a judge of the Jersey Court of Appeal.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich reviews surveillance operations undertaken by the Police, and Customs and Immigration, on an annual basis. In his report for 2018, he commented that investigatory powers had been exercised “in a compliant, proportionate and conscientious manner.”

He however identified “specific and continuing difficulties” and provided a confidential report on those to the Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, to help local authorities achieve “improvement.”

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Pictured: Local authorities were used phone tapping in 11 different investigations in 2018.

He also identified “human errors” during his review of warrants issued for the interception of communications. A total of 39 warrants were issued last year, down from 57 in 2017, relating to the subjects of 11 investigations - a majority of which concerned drug trafficking and associated money laundering offences. 

One warrant – which had been signed by the Attorney General – was lost after having been apparently destroyed “in error.” While a copy of the warrant had been made and the detail of the conduct authorised thus remained available, the administrative process is said to have been improved to prevent this from happening again. 

The second error related to the interception of a wrong telephone number. The error was identified as soon as the interception was connected, and the interception immediately terminated.

“Additional corroboration checks have been introduced when attributing a telephone number for interception purposes, which should reduce the chance that such a human error will recur,” Lord Anderson of Ipswich said.

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Pictured: Warrants for the interception of communications are signed by the Attorney General.

Some administrative issues were also identified and have been attributed to the transition to a new joint interception suite and a merger of procedures. 

Two warrant applications were refused by the Attorney General, one because the necessary serious crime threshold had not been reached, and the other because of a specific issue relating to the context of the application.  

Investigations that used phone-tapping led to £442,309 worth of drugs being seized as well as £1,000 in cash. The majority of the drugs were cannabis, but substantial quantities of MDMA and heroin were also seized, as well as other drugs.

14 individuals – some of them have already received lengthy prison sentences – were also arrested.

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Pictured: In two cases, the data acquired by the authorities did not correspond to the number.

Requests for communications data - sometimes described as the “who, how, when and where” of a communication - were the most widely used of the investigatory powers in Jersey with 162 applications, four of which were rejected.

A total of six administrative errors were reported by Jersey Police and another one by the Customs and Immigration services. Five of those related to excess data being provided by the relevant communications service provider, beyond what had been authorised.

The other two errors related to data acquired on the wrong telephone number. 

“All were attributable to human error, and none resulted in any serious impact or significant additional breach of privacy,” Lord Anderson wrote in his report. “To reduce the likelihood of further errors relating to the wrong telephone number, additional safeguards have been introduced, and advice as to process given.”

Local authorities also used surveillance, directed and intrusive - which describes covert techniques, carried out at someone’s home or inside their private vehicle -, interference with property, and covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) - where a person establishes or maintains a relationship with someone for the covert purpose of obtaining information - to help prevent crime.

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