The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) controls and regulates surveillance and other means of information gathering which public bodies employ in the discharge of their functions. RIPA provides an authorisation process for covert surveillance and information gathering, and an authorisation can be used as a defence against a claim that the council has interfered with an individual’s right to private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Act regulates
- directed surveillance
- intrusive surveillance
- the conduct and use of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS)
- intercepting communications
- the acquisition and disclosure of communications data
The council has a RIPA policy which says that the council will apply a presumption in favour of overt investigation methods, and that covert methods will be used only when other reasonable options have been considered and ruled out. Authorisations can generally only be granted by a small number of officers at Head of Service level, and the City Solicitor is the Senior Responsible Officer with ultimate responsibility for the council’s use of RIPA powers.
The council can only authorise the use of covert methods in very limited circumstances. The council cannot authorise intrusive surveillance. The council can only authorise directed surveillance where this is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious criminal conduct, and an authorisation cannot take effect until a JP has made an order approving it.
The council can only authorise the use of a CHIS, or authorise the acquisition of communications data where this is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, and again an order by a JP approving the authorisation is required.
If circumstances arise where the council decides to use covert methods but it is unable to give a RIPA authorisation, an auditable record is maintained in the form of a Human Rights Audit, and covert methods will only be used where this is necessary and proportionate and is for the purpose of one of the legitimate grounds for interference specified in Article 8.