According to latest figures obtained by The Times, Police Scotland are using surveillance to intercept 20,000 emails and phone calls every year – the equivalent to 53 a day.
The head of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, Christine Grahame, has warned police that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act should not be used as a “snoopers’ charter”.
Although she acknowledged that these methods are needed to help combat organised crime, she and her fellow committee members expressed concern about the extent to which these surveillance powers were used.
Under the Act, the email and phone records of anybody in the country can be requested by police and other authorities, such as council officials and members of security services. After receiving permission, they can look into computer records and phone data in an attempt to search for incriminating evidence.
Although authorities are not given permission to see the content of the emails or listen to particular phone conversations, they can view what email addresses have been communicated with and what phone numbers have been dialled or texted. In most instances, this has been used to tackle organised crime rather than to monitor terrorism.
Even so, it is the scale of the snooping that has made the justice committee uneasy, prompting an enquiry into the powers to monitor communications.
John Scott, QC Solicitor Advocate and Chair of Justice Scotland, said: “I think it is undoubtedly the case it has been used as a snoopers’ charter.
“Councils have used it for all sorts of completely trivial purposes which it was never intended for.”
A police spokesman defended the use of the powers, claiming that officers had to use more sophisticated methods to gather evidence, adding that there were safeguards built into the system to prevent abuse.