Shift on high-tech evidence

Shift on high-tech evidence

Government says the aim is to use intercept data in court

The government is examining how law enforcement bodies may be able to provide intercept evidence in court without disclosing the high-tech methods used to gather the information.

Police and secret service personnel regularly use complex technology to monitor phone and email communications over the internet.

However, the data is not currently used in court because criminals would then learn how to circumnavigate monitoring techniques.

The government is trying to remedy the situation so that best use can be made of a valuable body of evidence, home secretary Jacqui Smith told the House of Commons Home Affairs committee last week.

“It should be possible to find a way of using some intercept material as evidence,” said Smith.

“We are putting in place a cross-government implementation team to ensure that intelligence capability can be safeguarded,” she said.

Traditional wiretaps on physical phone lines are both relatively easy to put in place and difficult for the subject to detect.

But criminals are increasingly turning to the web because internet communications are much easier to hide.

And the problem shows no signs of going away.

Within a decade the total volume of communications traffic will almost double ­ from 230 billion in 2006 to nearly 450 billion in 2016 ­ according to government estimates.

And within five years most of that traffic will be over the web.

The use of intercept evidence would improve the chances of conviction in a range of cases from fraud to terrorism, the Home Affairs committee reported last year.

Arguments about the dangers of disclosing technical methods are misplaced, said London School of Economics security expert Professor Peter Sommer.

“There is no secret over how most of this surveillance takes place,” he said.

“Most opposition to these measures in the spook and law enforcement communities is simply cultural.”