UK Anti-Terror Powers Abused To Hunt Down Whistleblower Who Revealed Secret Government Tax Deal

from the shocked-to-the-bones dept

The UK government continues to claim that its spying activities are lawful, without specifying exactly why. However, it's pretty clear that the main law it is depending on is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). As Techdirt reported in January, there are serious doubts about whether GCHQ's surveillance activities are indeed covered by RIPA, but that's not the only problem here: the following story from The Guardian shows how RIPA is being abused -- not to find terrorists trying to bring down the state, but to winkle out whistleblowers selflessly trying to help it:

MPs have criticised Britain's leading tax official after HM Revenue & Customs [HMRC -- the UK tax authority] used powers meant to catch terrorists to hunt down an employee who exposed a secret multimillion-pound "sweetheart" deal with Goldman Sachs.

Lin Homer, the chief executive of HMRC, had told the public accounts committee that phone records had been obtained using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to unearth information about Osita Mba, an in-house lawyer.
In 2011, Mba had written in confidence to various government bodies, saying that the then head of UK tax, Dave Hartnett, had "let off" Goldman Sachs from paying at least £10m in interest. But instead of being grateful for this information, the tax authorities seemed more interested in hounding him:
When HMRC discovered Mba's intervention, his belongings, emails, internet search records and phone calls and the phone records of his then wife, Claudia, were examined by investigators.

At the committee meeting, Hodge also asked whether it was appropriate to pass Mba's wife's address, mobile number and office number to HMRC staff to investigate.
HMRC's abuse of RIPA extended to investigating Mba's communications with a Guardian journalist:
Margaret Hodge, the chair of the [Parliamentary] committee, said that HMRC's use of the powers, ostensibly to track down whether Mba had been talking to the Guardian's then investigations editor, David Leigh, had "shocked her to her bones".
Hodge went on to ask for assurances that HMRC would never again use RIPA powers on a whistleblower:
[Tax chief] Homer declined to offer Hodge the desired reassurance, responding: "You know that we cannot offer carte blanche assurances for evermore that we won't use these -- I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals."
That refusal underlines why the UK's RIPA needs serious revision -- both to stop this kind of abuse, and to bring some much-needed scrutiny to the legal basis for GCHQ's massive surveillance activities.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 5:54am

    "You know that we cannot offer carte blanche assurances for evermore that we won't use these -- I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals."


    Other individuals is the key phrase, What he actually means Is his corporate masters.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 5:59am

    i.e. 'we have much more shit to hide, and we will want to go after the people that might expose that'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Trails (profile), Mar 26th, 2014 @ 6:20am

    Re:

    I would suspect he's more beholden to covering his own ass than anything else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    TheOtherDude, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 6:27am

    This was terrorism

    This person was weakening the position of those in power, this is terrorism and the state has an army and police and laws specifically to protect those in power and keep everyone else in line. I dont get why this is a surprise or outrage, its SOP?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 6:30am

    Re: This was terrorism

    indeed, it does appear that nobody knows the definition of the word terrorism anymore.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re: This was terrorism

    And as infamously demonstrated by right wing media no one knows the definition of communist or socialist either. Disturbingly history is repeating itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 6:58am

    Re: Re: This was terrorism

    A terrorist is someone whose opinions differ from the government.

    E.g. If the government says there are five lights and you only see four, you're a terrorist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Anonymous Howard (profile), Mar 26th, 2014 @ 7:08am

    Fun question

    How much jail time did Dave Hartnett served for his crime?

    /sarc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 7:23am

    Re: Fun question

    None. Which is the true extent of the rampant criminality of the Úlites.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 7:44am

    Re: Re: Re: This was terrorism

    Well... that is not exactly true... Everyone does know!

    That's why that keep getting used even when out of context because of the negative impressions they give.

    Some of every ideology has good points, but all you have to do is match up 10% of something and apply a negative name.

    Are you now going to ask for people to be responsible? Chances are, that just is not happening because for every person in power, there is an agenda. Most them bad!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 7:48am

    >MPs have criticised Britain's leading tax official after HM Revenue & Customs [HMRC -- the UK tax authority] used powers meant to catch terrorists

    Hello, pot?

    This is kettle...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 8:15am

    Re: Re:

    By covering the people he has made suspicious deals with, he is essentially covering his own ass. Promoting "secrecy as a responsibility" will give him a right to avoid giving up proof that would otherwise compromise him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 11:53am

    Re:

    I'm think more along the lines of, "HELLO? YES THIS IS DOG!" when it comes to the UK government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Kronomex, Mar 26th, 2014 @ 3:43pm

    How dare someone in the government have scruples and a conscience! He should be sent off to Room 101 for reprogramming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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