Tax man given web snooping powers

Tax man given web snooping powers

Internet traffic intercept laws to be extended to HM Revenue inspectors

Tax inspectors are to be given intercept powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) that were originally intended to assist in the war against terror.

Agencies affected by Ripa have the right to ask internet service providers for information about the traffic routed through their servers.

The decision to give a massive boost to the armoury of the government's revenue collection agency was revealed in the first annual report of new Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy, an Appeal Court Judge.

HM Revenue and Customs believes it needs the power "in the light of evidence that serious organised crime groups have become active" in the area of tax avoidance and evasion, says Kennedy.

The report also warns that public bodies ranging from fire brigades to local councils, who are currently not making the most of the Ripa, could have the powers taken away from them.

A quarter of the Trading Standards, Environmental Control officers, Housing Benefit departments and fire services have used the rights granted under the Act to identify suspect rogue traders, fly tippers and fraudsters.

Other law enforcement agencies have now seized on Ripa as a "powerful investigative tool" to help convict serious criminals and trace vulnerable or suicidal individuals.

Kennedy said other "intrusive" interception had played a key role in preventing murders, large scale drug importation and terrorism but came down firmly against allowing evidence obtained this way to be used in court.