Police to get electronic support

A HIGH Court ruling has helped to make sure police gain effective access to e-mails in their search for evidence to fight serious crime.Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that internet service providers can lawfully intercept e-mails at the request of the police once they have received notification that a special production order is being sought from the courts.

A HIGH Court ruling has helped to make sure police gain effective access to e-mails in their search for evidence to fight serious crime.

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that internet service providers can lawfully intercept e-mails at the request of the police once they have received notification that a special production order is being sought from the courts.

Sitting with Mr Justice Curtis, Lord Woolf said if the providers could not act then specific powers given to the police under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) would be "almost totally worthless" and "wholly unhelpful" in the bid to detect serious crime.

Safeguards lay in the fact that the police had to justify their applications in court to obtain the special production orders under PACE.

The judges were giving their backing to an Ipswich Crown Court decision last September that the intercepts were lawful.

Suffolk police had served notice on telecoms company ntl Group Ltd that they were applying for access to all electronic information stored on their computers and electronic data retrieval systems relating to a particular e-mail address over a ten-day period.

Most Read

The court had heard that ntl maintained a server for internet service provider (ISP) Virgin.

The company was warned that it must not "conceal, destroy, alter or dispose of" the material being sought, except with the permission of a judge or written permission of a police officer.

But ntl Group lawyers argued the company would be committing an offence under section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 if it complied with the notice.

The company said its system automatically destroyed e-mails once the user had accessed them. To prevent that from happening it would have to intercept the e-mails in a way which amounted to an offence.

Last September, ntl applied to Ipswich Crown Court for permission to destroy or dispose of the electronic information being sought.

Refusing the application, Judge Devaux ruled ntl would not be committing an offence by intercepting and retaining e-mails once they had received notification that the police were applying for a special production order under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

The judge said the notification gave the company "lawful authority" to make interceptions under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Making a special production order, he refused to limit it to material only in existence at the time the order was actually made.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter