Allegations that a bug hidden in the hollowed out table of a prison visiting room was used to spy on a lawmaker's conversations has raised new questions over the extent of covert surveillance in Britain.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons on Monday that an inquiry had begun into whether conversations between legislator Sadiq Khan and Babar Ahmad, who is in prison awaiting extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges, were bugged.
The case, if proven, would call into question a decades-old deal which protects British legislators from wiretaps.
Christopher Rose, the chief surveillance commissioner, will review claims that the talks at a prison in Buckinghamshire, southern England, were secretly recorded.
Newly released figures show hundreds of Britons routinely have their phone calls, e-mails and mail monitored, not simply by law enforcement officials investigating crimes, but by local authorities seeking to catch rogue traders or conmen.
Latest available figures show that in the nine months ending December 31 last year, the Home Secretary authorised 1,333 wiretaps or intercepts.
Of these, 754 wiretaps were still in place, a report last week from Britain's Interception of Communications Commissioner Paul Kennedy said. Kennedy, a former High Court judge, reviews warrants issued for intercepting communications and the procedures of the agencies that execute those warrants.
Police, security services and other authorities also made 2,53,500 requests for communications data, including telephone numbers, call records and e-mails in 2006, he said.