Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is concerned with the regulation of surveillance by public authorities in the conduct of their legitimate business to ensure that, in conducting such surveillance, public authorities have regard to the Human Rights Act – the right to a private and family life.
Since 1 November 2012 local authorities have been required to obtain judicial approval prior to using covert techniques. Additionally, since this date, local authority use of directed surveillance under RIPA has been limited to the investigation of crimes which attract a six month or more custodial sentence, with the exception of offences relating to the underage sale of alcohol and tobacco. The forms of surveillance which the council is entitled to undertake, subject to approval by the Magistrates Court are covert directed surveillance and the use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources known as CHIS.
Over the past 4 years there have been no authorisations of covert surveillance by the Council for a number of reasons:
• The transfer of benefit fraud investigation to the DWP
• The constraints introduced by the change in legislation
• Concentration on deterrence rather than prosecution
• Concentration on using overt surveillance techniques as opposed to covert surveillance as a means of investigation
The Council is only likely to use a CHIS in very exceptional circumstances, and has to date never authorised their use since RIPA was introduced.
An authorisation to conduct surveillance and/or CHIS can only be given by appropriately designated officers within the council.
Each authorisation must then be approved by the Magistrates’ Court before any surveillance can go ahead. A central record of all authorisations is held and maintained by the council’s legal team.
These records are confidential however statistical information can be provided upon request. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners carries out inspections to oversee surveillance operations carried out by local authorities. These inspections take the form of interviews with senior management and operational staff at all levels, assessment of documentation relating to strategies, policies and procedures and detailed analysis of individual operations.
The council’s RIPA policy offers assurances to data subjects, whether individuals or companies that deal with the council that the data relating to them is being handled correctly and legally, minimising the risk of unauthorised access or disclosure.