Fears that new law enforcement powers proposed in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill will breach civil liberties and threaten accountants’ client confidentiality agreements mounted this week following its first reading.
The Bill, unveiled in the House of Commons last Thursday, proposes to increase powers of seizure permitting investigators to confiscate and forensically examine an entire disk or hard drive.
This will mean retaining all the material on a hard drive, including legally privileged material. Seizure powers could also extend to mobile phones and palm top computers. Announcing the Bill home secretary Jack Straw said: ‘We are modernising police powers and procedures and bringing in measures to help tackle serious crime, including clarifying police powers to seize material for examination.’
Chris Dickson, executive counsel at the accountants’ Joint Disciplinary Scheme, said: ‘The principal fear is that police will build up a database about people.’ But he said the new powers were crucial to investigations because of difficulties dealing with computer evidence.
However, concerns that police could use non-related information gleaned in an investigation are growing fast.
The Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise will also have powers extended through a statutory obligation to disclose information to the police in criminal investigations.
John Gwyer, tax partner at Pannell Kerr Forster, said: ‘This is not just about tax, it’s about civil liberties. The Revenue has been given police powers which go beyond their duties.’
For FAQs about the Inland Revenue’s new powers visit www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk.
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