Previous Section Home Page

Column 175

Electronic Surveillance Devices

2.30 am

Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : I am pleased to have been able to secure a debate on an important subject that I consider is much misunderstood in this country and, indeed, has been the subject of enormous exaggeration. It relates to the growing availability in this country of electronic surveillance equipment that essentially can be bought by anyone, whether that individual be law-abiding or not. It is a matter of concern to me--I believe, too, that it is of some concern to a growing number of other people--that there are an increasing number of advertisements appearing in all sorts of newspapers and magazines for such equipment. The last advertisement to catch my attention was in The Daily Telegraph. It said : "Discreet listening, recording and counter-surveillance equipment".

Whoever was interested simply had to contact a company called Lorraine Electronics Surveillance that is based in London. I stress that this is only one advertisement of many and simply gives the flavour. The words that offend me in that advertisement are "discreet listening", which could be the subject of all sorts of abuse. My concerns are evidenced by the fact that I have written to the Home Secretary on more than one occasion, the last occasion being on 10 February of this year. I have also tabled a number of questions to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. All of these questions, of course, have been transferred to other Departments. In other words, I have not yet been able to get the Home Department to answer a question on the subject. It is not that the Home Department is evading answering the questions, but that the entire area of electronic surveillance is policed not by the Home Department, but by other Departments.

I am pursuing this question, because I believe that the use of such devices could--I emphasise "could"--constitute an invasion of privacy that I am bound to say I consider to be offensive.

Little information is available on such equipment, which is evidenced by the amount of people who have telephoned me and have asked, "Are you speaking about ID tagging for prisoners?" I will not mention names, but many people have asked that question. I believe that that proves how little is known about the matter. Moreover, there is little case law on the subject either. The last case I was able to discover was the Woolworth and Dixons case that I believe highlighted how ineffective and confused the law is. The industry has informed me that this ineffective and essentially confused law has resulted in a much increased demand for the equipment. That is borne out by the managing director of Lorraine Electronics Surveillance, who in the magazine Your Business in June 1988 said :

"Press reports of bugging"--

as he chose to call it--

"represent the tip of the iceberg."

That is his judgment and I take that statement for what it is worth. The article went on :

"Lorraine's 1987 turnover was reported to be 50 per cent. up on 1986, which in turn was 100 per cent. up on 1985."

The company expected the increase in business to continue in the foreseeable future.

I am perfectly willing to concede that such devices, which I shall consider in detail later, can be bought and sold for quite legitimate purposes. I am entitled to say,

Column 176

however, that it may not always be the case. This is illustrated by the words of the managing director of Lorraine Electronics Surveillance who said in Your Business :

"I never sit in judgement or moralise about why a company or individual should be buying surveillance equipment."

That is an interesting statement. Some of us may wonder why he and his colleagues do not ask questions about why some equipment is bought. Such an obligation is placed on the sellers of a considerable amount of merchandise in Britain. Why, therefore, is a similar obligation not imposed on the sellers of surveillance equipment? One can only make a judgment about such equipment if one has studied it, as I have, in detail. It is clear that the great technological advances that have occurred have resulted in the development of many miniaturised devices for the market. They can be hidden in everyday household and office equipment. Such devices are normally extremely powerful and can pick up conversations without the knowledge of those conversing. That is offensive and I profoundly disagree with that practice.

National security considerations may justify the use of such equipment and it might be used to crack drug rings and other extreme criminal activity. No case can be made, however, for ordinary people going into such establishments in high streets to buy this equipment for relatively modest sums.

The brochures claim that some equipment is sold for export only--apparently if it was sold on the home market it would contravene a number of our laws. No check, however, is made to verify whether such equipment has been exported or whether it is used here. A number of us believe that some of this equipment is being used here in contravention of our laws and of the claims made in the brochures. The description of the available devices demonstrate that the business is obnoxious.

To establish the facts, I obtained brochures and information from a number of companies chosen at random. There are many such companies, but I chose these : Glideglen Electronics, of St. Osyth in Essex ; Sirius Security, of Hull ; Cumberworth Security, of Hull ; Ruby Electronics Ltd, of Leyton in London ; Lorraine Electronics Surveillance, also of Leyton ; and the Surveillance and Security Centre, in London. I repeat that companies in this line of business are mushrooming as a result of the outcome of the case that I mentioned.

The first brochure I examined came from Glideglen Electronics. I propose to flit through one or two of the products that are on offer. The Envelope Transmitter is

"the ultimate in covert transmitting bugs, and with its super sensitive input stage and stable output stage, it can be hidden anywhere Its size allows it to be inserted into a 9 4 envelope or smaller. It could then be dropped into a waste paper basket in the target room"--

I stress the word "target"--

"or pinned to a notice board, or simply left on a desk." The words speak for themselves.

One can also buy a Concrete Microphone :

"The CM1 is a complete listening device, which will penetrate walls up to a foot thick."

One is entitled to wonder why anyone would want to listen to a conversation in a room with such walls for legitimate purposes. Next, there is the Contact Window Transmitter :

Column 177

"This intriguing little device is a transmitter fitted with a special contact transducer. It sticks to a window or door etc. and picks up the sounds inside, and transmits to a suitable receiver. It has a range of up to 1,000 yards".

Then there is the Micro 7 Transmitter :

"A specially developed transmitter for monitoring conversations taking place within a vehicle, with a range of up to 3 miles". Why would anyone legitimately want to listen to a conversation in a car that far away if it was not for improper purposes?

One can also buy what is called a Mains Transmitter, which is "a tiny transmitter built in a standard 13amp multi plug adaptor, and in no way does it affect its appearance or working. It is powered by the mains supply, so no batteries are needed. You just plug in and tune in!"

The last sentence is revealing. It means that someone can plug in to someone else's business. That is a gross invasion of privacy. A Pen Transmitter is also available :

"The PT1 is a tiny powerful transmitter, built inside a standard Schafer Ball Point Pen, complete with batteries and a micro miniature mic (and it still writes!) This is a major breakthrough in personal surveillance equipment, its tiny mic has the capability of picking up speech from 25 feet away, with crystal clarity."

The Calculator Transmitter is the same as the Pen Transmitter. There is also a wonderful device known as the Infinity Transmitter : "For transmission via the public telephone system. This device will allow you to monitor sounds or conversations within the area of the target telephone"--

that is an interesting use of the word "target"--

"from any telephone anywhere in the world."

Madam Deputy Seaker, it seems to me, as I have already said, that any of this equipment could be used for proper purposes, but under present circumstances it is at least equally possible to say that that equipment could be used for improper purposes.

That seems to me also to be illustrated by something sold by a company called Sirius Security of Hull, called a Covert Interview Recorder. I quote from the brochure :

"The interview recorder system has been designed to facilitate the recording of interviews and conversations, whether they take place in the office or in the street, with the recording system totally hidden about one's person."

There is a marvellous drawing showing how all this stuff can be hidden behind lapels or in pockets. The brochure goes on : "The seed microphone is ideally hidden under the lapel of a jacket or down the sleeve, where it will pick up sounds in a radius of the user from whatever angle the conversation takes place. The system can be activated and de-activated covertly"

one again wonders why, but it can indeed be

"without suspicion as and when required during a conversation by an apparently innocent movement."

One is bound to ask why equipment such as this is available in the United Kingdom, in the sort of society I and other hon. Members of the House belong to. I simply fail to understand why anybody would have this recorder hidden on his person to record conversations except for dubious reasons.

The last of these interesting devices which I bring to the House's attention and which I would ask you to consider buying, Madam Deputy Speaker, is something called "the remarkable recording briefcase." What does the brochure say here?

"To all intents and purposes, both inside and out, it simply looks like a high-quality executive leather case."

Column 178

Indeed, if one looks at this wonderful picture, that is precisely what it is.

"Even close scrutiny does not reveal the microphone and concealed electronics that enable one to record conversations in a most discreet manner."

Again, what sort of conversations have to be recorded in this discreet manner if one is simply talking, as ordinary people talk, in a law-abiding and legitimate way? The brochure goes on to say : "Open or closed, even locked and unattended, the Recording Briefcase will monitor conversation with exceptional clarity." "With exceptional clarity"--is that not marvellous to know, Madam Deputy Speaker? Nothing less will do. It goes on to say : "Briefing notes easily verified and as for those copious Board Meeting notes--a thing of the past!"

How comforting that must be for all boards of directors in this country and how uncomfortable it must be for all company secretaries who will be done out of a job. Perhaps members of the Cabinet may now be able to turn up at Cabinet meetings with recording briefcases and we will therefore not require the services of the Cabinet Secretary. How interesting.

The point is, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this would be funny were it not also so very serious, because, as I have said before, it is fairly clear that all of these devices, whilst they may be used for legitimate purposes, could be used for improper purposes to invade the privacy of the people of this country. That is quite disgraceful.

Another factor which illustrates why this situation may get out of hand is, of course, the growth in sales of counter-surveillance equipment. The equipment is only necessary if surveillance equipment is used improperly. The growth of the counter-surveillance industry shows that the possibility exists that surveillance equipment devices are getting into the wrong hands or are being sold without questions being asked.

We should remember that the managing director of Lorraine Electronics Surveillance said that he did not look too closely at the morality of people buying such equipment. If that is so, it is no surprise to me that some of the equipment is sold to the wrong people without any questions being asked.

If you will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I must refer to the brochures again. Madam Deputy Speaker, you could buy the RFD and the RFD-X counter surveillance equipment which, according to the brochure, has

"been designed to provide the individual"--

note the word "individual"--

"with a simple and effective means of detecting and locating radio frequency surveillance devices. Radio signals are present in all areas and the function of both detectors is to isolate and help identify transmissions that could represent a threat."

Again we must wonder about the nature of the threat. However, a threat could occur. I remember when I was the west midlands director of the Confederation of British Industry that a company that was being taken over discovered an electronic surveillance device under the boardroom table. The suspicion was that someone was listening in to conversations for nefarious purposes which might have led to a profit.

In addition to the counter-surveillance devices to which I have referred, you could, Madam Deputy Speaker, buy what is called the "Body-Worn Detector". According to the brochure, that is a

Column 179

"Pocket-sized device that silently vibrates, thus alerting the user of a possible transmission threat."

There is also a "Telephone and Wiring Analyser" and even a "Hand-Held Detector". According to the brochure, the "Hand-Held Detector" is a

"Simple and easy to use"--

how wonderful to know that this equipment is so easy to use-- "instrument devised to offer immediate and portable protection from electronic invasion."

In view of that galaxy of obnoxious equipment, what protection is offered by the law? Having gone into that question in considerable detail, it seems that the law does not offer a great deal of protection. I would be delighted to be overruled by my hon. Friend the Minister of State if I am wrong, but I understand that a "bug" may be placed in the customised briefcase to which I drew the attention of the House earlier, or the pen or calculator, and that is not an illegal act.

I am advised, and again I would be delighted to be contradicted, that using this equipment to record conversations is also not illegal. It is illegal if any of the devices transmits an unauthorised radio signal, and then it will breach the wireless and telegraphy legislation. That betrays at least one of the reasons why my questions to the Home Office are transferred to other Departments and in that case to the Department of Trade and Industry, because it oversees the wireless and telegraphy legislation.

Illegality can also occur when the equipment is used in conjunction with telephone instruments or lines. Again, that could, depending on the circumstances, contravene the relevant Telecommunications Act. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary understands the situation perfectly well, as do most people who have investigated the subject. In his letter to me dated 4 August 1988, he recognised the severe limitation of the Acts, commenting :

"However, radio surveillance devices are unlikely to cause interference to other radio users simply because if they did their use would quickly be detected and their purpose defeated." My point is that the devices I have described are being sold but their use is "controlled" by only two Acts that are fairly ineffective--as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has himself admitted.

Against that background, one must again ask whether such devices are in the public interest. I make no bones about my belief that the answer is a resounding no. The only question that remains is how should the law be changed to reflect what ordinary individuals expect. In my right hon. Friend's letter to me of 4 August last, he recognises the difficulties, saying :

"I understand your concern about the availability and use of these devices, though at present I do not believe a case has been made out for controls over their sale and use."

I have written again to my right hon. Friend with copies of all the material from which I have quoted, saying that I believe a case for controls has been made. If he believes otherwise, I invite him to explain his reasons, so that those of us who believe that there is a problem can mobilise an argument to which my right hon. Friend will be prepared to listen.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in favour of some action being taken, and I believe that that emanates from a Law Commission report entitled "The Law on the Breach of Confidence", proposing that those

Column 180

who obtain information by improper means should be subject to the obligation not to use or disclose that information thereby gained. My right hon. Friend says that if such disclosure took place, that could trigger a civil action for breach of confidence. He adds : "I should like to reflect on whether this is an idea which we should take forward."

If my right hon. Friend decides on that course of action, that will be an advance, but I still think that it would be inadequate and have made that view known to my right hon. Friend. The problem is that his suggestion would not prevent invasion of privacy, but would only restrict the use to which the knowledge gained by the use of surveillance devices could be put. Even then, the question arises as to whether one can prove that privacy has been invaded in the first place.

I have tried to demonstrate, by describing the grubby selection of devices that can be bought in this country, that people's privacy can be invaded and that they may never know about it. Few people would go to the lengths of buying counter-surveillance equipment to combat the electronic surveillance equipment used to invade their privacy. I argue that privacy may be invaded, and profit made from the information thereby gained, but that the individual or the company concerned could never know. To illustrate the point, industrial espionage in this country and in America is a growing

phenomenon--secrecy is of the essence.

I have been dragged kicking and screaming to the conclusion that regulation is necessary. I say that because like most Conservative Members I am in favour of deregulation, not regulation. In this instance, however, I feel that the ideal solution is for such devices to be illegal unless explicitly licensed. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others would have reservations, and if it is impossible to achieve that end perhaps the next best solution is the one that my right hon. Friend has cited--but not in isolation. Civil action for breach of confidence is not enough on its own, and it makes it very difficult for the individual to go to law--in this country, civil law.

I feel, therefore, that we also need a code of practice among retailers and manufacturers. There are plenty of precedents : individuals have got together in the past to "regulate" their own industry. There should also be a register of people who are buying the equipment--and, indeed, selling it- -so that those of us who are worried about where it is going can check up after the event, under the aegis of the Home Office or the police.

Let me repeat that all too little is known about this topic. Many people put the blind eye to the telescope and say that the industry need not be investigated, because the equipment being sold is not used for illegal purposes. I am not prepared to come to that conclusion. I think that this is a nasty little industry, which is mushrooming and which capitalises on the fact that it is unregulated. All sorts of practices are beginning to develop, and I should like to hear the Minister say that he is prepared to clean them up--because this industry does indeed need cleaning up.

3.2 am

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on introducing such an interesting topic, albeit so early in the morning. We should be grateful for any opportunity of hearing about it. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the difficulty of pinpointing

Column 181

the Department responsible. The Minister, whom I saw just before the debate, insisted that the DTI Minister would be at the Dispatch Box, and it gives some indication of the confusion that the Minister of State, Home Office is there instead.

This is a serious matter, and it is linked with others. Only this weekend I was discussing with a number of people the growing practice of large companies of recording every telephone call made or received by their employees. I understand that the practice is now widespread, and that employees have no right to know whether their conversations are being recorded. Most people consider telephone conversations to be private affairs : a kind of right of privacy is involved. I am told by a reliable source, however, that increasing numbers of large companies--banks, stock exchange firms and so on--automatically record all conversations. They do not tell their employees or members of the public who telephone the company. That is another aspect suggesting that we are becoming an Orwellian state. It is easy to go too far and to regard such practices as a great danger and to make everyone paranoid. Individual rights of privacy have to be based on the facts of the late 20th century and not the rights that Thomas Paine and other great philosophers of the 18th century discussed. We associate the 18th century with the Bill of Rights and the establishment of the rights of the individual, but those rights were drawn up in the 18th century and were appropriate to the demands and problems that the 18th century imposed on the thoughts of those individuals.

The hon. Member for Beverley was absolutely right to draw our attention to the fact that individual rights of privacy have to take account of very disturbing trends, including electronic bugging. He covered the problem of industrial espionage extremely well. We all know that a large number of people in Britain are interested in information about patents and hard-won scientific knowledge. It would be grossly unfair if it were easy for one company to steal patented rights and secrets, or scientific or technical information from another company before patents had been obtained. It is not simply a question of one domestic company pursuing the secrets of another ; it is big international business. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the problems of checking the importation of equipment, because if it is not available in Britain, it is certainly available abroad. The private security industry has grown tremendously in the past 10 or 20 years and perhaps longer. Only recently the Association of Chief Police Officers expressed concern about 650 private security firms which were unlicensed and many of which could be described as cowboy firms. The Government are reluctant to do anything about the unregulated private security industry. I received a reply from the Minister only last week about the private security industry, stating that the Government intend to do nothing except encourage self-regulation. If one combines that with the growth of electronic surveillance techniques, the problem reaches worrying proportions. As the hon. Gentleman said, of course there are legitimate purposes for electronic surveillance equipment, but they must occupy a very small percentage of the market. Control of the market would run counter to the Government's market philosophy, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that some regulation is necessary.

To introduce a note of controversy, an example of the way in which modern technology can influence human

Column 182

rights is the appalling suggestion from the Government of electronic tagging, which the Opposition believe would be a great infringement on the rights of individuals, be they convicted criminals or on remand. We should investigate and ponder the matter thoroughly before taking any steps in that direction.

I do not want to keep the House any longer than necessary but in modern technology terms there is also a parallel with the Government's reluctance to change the law on the practice of hacking, or tapping into the computers of firms, Government institutions and so on, where again we have been lagging behind other countries in recognising the dangers that can be posed to individuals, to corporations and to state security. I know that there are moves afoot to do something.

We should not consider the issue piecemeal by saying, "There is a problem with electronic devices," or "There is a problem with hacking." We should examine the whole subject of the relationship of individual rights and the right to privacy in relation to changes in modern technology. It would be better to consider it all in the round. It is such a complex and interesting area for future development that I hope the Minister can give us signs that he has an open mind on the way in which we should go, and that he does not say that nothing can be done or that he is reluctant to do anything. I remember shortly after becoming a Member listening to a debate that I thought belonged to cloud-cuckoo-land. Lord Wilson, as he now is, introduced a debate on modern systems of television communication. He talked about satellite beaming and various television channels. Most hon. Members thought that the illustrious gentleman had gone a bit far and that his imagination was taking over. At that time most of us believed that we were talking about science fiction. That was only 10 years ago. Of course, satellite television is with us now.

Electronic surveillance is a minor problem at the moment. The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to what is increasingly becoming a problem for individuals. Whichever political side we are on in the House, we have a problem with part of the press. The irony is that, while we have probably the best serious press in the world, we also have perhaps the worst popular press. It makes me shudder to think of the use that the tabloid press, and certain proprietors, could make or perhaps are making--we do not know--of electronic surveillance techniques to penetrate the homes, offices and secret parts of people's lives.

People have a right to privacy and a right to know that what they say within four walls is confidential to them, their business associates and their family. What would happen if electronic surveillance equipment was in the hands of unscrupulous people? I believe that certain elements of the tabloid press are totally unscrupulous. One has only to think of the tragic consequences of the behaviour of the tabloid press in recent weeks. I am thinking of a ghastly suicide that was directly caused by the News of the World in the last few months. It was dramatically illustrated on BBC radio last week. If one thinks about such irresponsibility being linked to electronic surveillance equipment, it makes the case very strong for urgent Government action and regulation.

Column 183

3.13 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : I am not sure whether I should congratulate or commiserate with my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on his success in securing the opportunity to raise at this unseemly hour the subject of electronic surveillance devices. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) got out of bed unnecessarily, thinking that this debate was to be answered by a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry. I should point out that the next debate too is to be answered by a Home Office Minister. This shows the great devotion to duty, of Ministers and officials alike, in the Home Department. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the persistence that he has shown in pursuing this subject and for the detailed and very interesting way in which he made his case tonight. His concern about the availability and use of these devices and about their implications for personal privacy is well known. I think he was slightly inaccurate in saying that every one of his parliamentary questions on this subject had been transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry. According to my records, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department did answer one of his questions on the subject on 2 March. It is possible that the Under- Secretary would be answering this debate tonight if he were not unfortunately indisposed.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the possible misuse of some of the very sophisticated equipment that is on the market. He gave us a riveting and worrying account of what is currently available, although I must say that the recording briefcase to which he referred had a touch of humour about it--almost a touch of the conjuror. Hon. Members might use it as a means of stretching their secretarial allowances.

What my hon. Friend said about the distastefulness of the practices of monitoring and surveillance that he described is entirely correct. However, I have to say to him and to the hon. Member for Huddersfield that, when we come to consider the possibility of effectively controlling such devices, there are a number of very real difficulties. It would not generally be practicable or desirable to contemplate prohibiting the sale or use of particular devices--for two reasons. First, it would be difficult to define "devices" in any meaningful way that would not soon be obsolete and ineffective, bearing in mind the rapid pace of technological development. Secondly, it is unlikely that there would be any device that could not be represented as having some legitimate use.

The Younger report on privacy, to which I shall refer at one or two points in my remarks, contains a long and detailed section on technical surveillance devices, and devotes several pages to a discussion of the various legitimate uses to which such equipment may be put--for example, by those concerned with the acquisition and dissemination of news, including material for investigative and documentary journalism, and by those engaged in detective work. There is also a problem about trying to identify the circumstances in which the use of these devices might be controlled. As our debate a few weeks ago on the Protection of Privacy Bill, which was introduced by my

Column 184

hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), demonstrated, it is extremely difficult to frame an acceptable definition of "privacy".

As Younger noted, the privacy of any situation will depend entirely on the circumstances :

"While there may be situations such as the home, the office, and the hotel bedroom, which might be said, prima facie, to be private, circumstances willed or unwilled can render them obviously not private ; and there are many other situations which reasonable people would agree were private, but which occur in public places." The hon. Member for Huddersfield was quite right in saying that the right to privacy has to be watched very carefully at a time when companies are making a habit of recording the telephone conversations of their employees. The fact remains that this definition of "privacy" still lies at the heart of the problems that we explored in the long debate on the private Member's Bill the other day. The Younger committee saw merit in the creation of a criminal offence of surreptitious surveillance by means of a technical device. The ingredients of such an offence would be the use of a device in circumstances where, were it not for that use, the person who was the object of that surveillance would be justified in believing that he had protected himself or his possessions from such surveillance. The committee recognised that the major problem of controlling surreptitious surveillance by devices was that, of its very nature, it is difficult to detect. A large number of elements would need to be present, for example, a technical device--I have just mentioned the difficulty of definition in that context--then surreptitious use, the person under surveillance, a set of circumstances where the person under surveillance believed himself to be protected, an intention by the user to overcome that protection, and absence of consent by the victim.

Enforcement of new legislation to control that type of activity would therefore be more than usually difficult. It is that consideration which has led successive Governments to take the view that, on balance, it would not be useful to legislate as Younger proposed. For this reason too, successive Governments have not been attracted to Younger's suggestion that advertising of such devices, with reference to their aptness for surreptitious surveillance, was an incitement to commit an offence.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Younger committee rejected proposals that there should be any more general remedy for the protection of privacy, but it drew attention to the availability of the existing action for breach of confidence, which it considered was potentially capable of affording greater protection to privacy than had hitherto been realised. However, since the committee found the action for breach of confidence to be somewhat uncertain in its scope, it recommended that the matter be referred to the Law Commission. The commission presented its report on this subject in 1981. It noted Younger's recommendation for a criminal offence of surreptitious surveillance and, while emphasising that it was concerned with the civil and not the criminal law, it made it clear that the acquisition of information by the sort of technical devices which Younger had in mind had implications in its view for the civil law of confidence. It accordingly recommended that there should be an obligation of confidence in respect of information obtained by the use of any surveillance device, provided that such information would not have been acquired without the use of that device. Those who acquired the

Column 185

information would, in other words, be subject to a legal obligation not to use or disclose it ; and if they did so they would be liable to be sued in the civil courts in an action for breach of confidence.

This approach, suggested by the Law Commission, seems to have the advantage of concentrating on the real mischief, which is the use to which information obtained by surveillance is put, and it provides the victim with a direct means of redress.

Mr. Cran : I understand what the Law Commission recommended, but the problem with the proposal, as I made clear, is that it presupposed that the individual who has been listened in to knows what has happened. The problem is that he may not know that he has been listened in to ; the company may not know, for example, that its patent information had been stolen from it. Therefore, they would not be in a position, for some considerable time, to take action. Thus, profits could be made and a coach and horses could be driven through the proposal that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has just outlined.

Next Section

  Home Page