HC Deb 16 December 1998 vol 322 c608W
Mr. Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the legislative framework relating to the interception of signals connecting(a) mobile phones, (b) pagers and (c) interactive cable TV services. [63559]

Mr. Straw

The Interception of Communications Act 1985 provides that communications may lawfully be intercepted in the course of their transmission by means of a public telecommunications system only in obedience to a warrant issued by the Secretary of State or in certain other circumstances specified in section 1(2) and (3) of the Act. This applies equally to mobile and fixed public telecommunications systems and to interactive cable TV services.

The question whether a communication is, at the point of interception, on the public or the private side of a telecommunications system is a point of fact which has received some measure of clarification by the Courts. I have announced the intention to legislate to bring so-called "private side interception" within the law on interception.

Pagers operate by wireless telegraphy and, as such, are covered by section 5 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949. This provides that it is an offence to use Wireless Telegraphy intending to obtain information about the contents of a message, its sender or the recipient, except under the authority of the Secretary of State or in the course of a person's duty as a servant of the Crown. As police officers are not, in law, servants of the Crown in England and Wales, police applications to intercept pagers in the course of criminal investigations are warranted by the my Department under my authority.