The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) sets out information to regulate surveillance by public authorities.
The act exists to ensure that, in conducting such surveillance as part of legitimate business public authorities consider and abide by Human Rights Act - the right to a private and family life.
The council's RIPA policy (PDF File, 765kb) 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.
Covert surveillance approval process
Since 1 November 2012, local authorities have been required to obtain judicial approval prior to using covert techniques. We've also been required only to use directed surveillance under RIPA in the investigation of crimes attracting a six month or more custodial sentence. The only exception to this is 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
- Covert Human Intelligence Sources known as CHIS
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 overseeing 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.
Recent covert surveillance by the Council
Over the past four years there have been no authorisations of covert surveillance by Newark and Sherwood District Council for a number of reasons:
- the transfer of benefit fraud investigation to the DWP
- the constraints introduced by the change in legislation
- focus on deterrence rather than prosecution
- using overt surveillance techniques as opposed to covert surveillance as a means of investigation