Related Sector: Investigations, Covert, Intel & Specialist

Liverpool Council has recently published an annual investigatory report outlining its powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers 2000 Act (RIPA) to conduct surveillance throughout the city. The last RIPA surveillance activity undertaken by the Council was in October 2019. No RIPA or non-RIPA surveillance activities have been undertaken since.  

This report, states:

The number of surveillance activities considered has reduced considerably and continues following the Covid-19 pandemic. This is consistent with practice seen across many public authorities and is due to a range of factors, including reduced resources, greater access to data-matching and the use of overt rather than covert law enforcement activity.”

What surveillance is permitted under RIPA?

The report differentiates between ‘’directed surveillance’’, which is permitted under RIPA and ‘’intrusive surveillance’’, that is surveillance carried out on residential premises or in private vehicles.

Under RIPA, surveillance is ‘’directed surveillance’’ if all the following are true:

  • It is covert, but not intrusive surveillance.
  • It is conducted for the purposes of a specific investigation or operation.
  • It is likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person.
  • It is conducted otherwise than by way of an immediate response to events or circumstances, the nature of which is such that is would not be reasonably practicable for an authorisation under Part II of the Act to be sought.

Directed surveillance is used within local authorities, such as Liverpool Council to exercise criminal investigation powers for a number of different reasons, ranging from fly-tipping and planning enforcement to the sale of counterfeit goods and covid-19 violations. RIPA allows local authorities to conduct surveillance in areas such as public places, workplaces or on public transport.

The report states that covert surveillance could mean the use of CCTV to monitor an individual's movement or their actions and while the camera is seen as overt, “it is the use of that camera to track that individual’s actions without that individual knowing which makes that act covert.”

It also highlighted the ways it can use human intelligence to monitor any wrongdoing around licenced locations, stating that “the council may also use underage volunteers to purchase tobacco or alcohol whilst being filmed. While the council has historically undertaken such operations, none have been undertaken since late 2019 coinciding with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.’’

Finally, the report stated that “the council may also authorise the use of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) to obtain information from individuals in a covert manner such as a Trading Standards officer using a pseudonym to carry out a test purchase online. It may also apply to the tasking of a member of the public to obtain private information about an individual.”

Is authorisation for surveillance required under RIPA?

To undertake directed surveillance, authorisation must be obtained. An official must complete an application form (this person is called ‘the applicant’) and it must be authorised by a senior manager (this person is called ‘the authorising officer’). In a local authority setting, the authorising officer must be a service manager, head of service or director. Local authorities should have a policy or a list that sets out exactly who is able to authorise the activity.

Additionally, all local authority authorisations now require judicial approval from a Justice of the Peace (JP) or a District Judge.

What is the purpose of RIPA?

One of the important aspects for local authorities to consider is the right to respect for private and family life, as not only does this protect people’s privacy and their relationships, but it also covers their home and their communications. This is known as Article 8 under ECHR.

Covert surveillance investigations are likely to interfere with someone’s right to respect for private and family life (Article 8). But RIPA seeks to ensure a balance between public interest and the rights of individuals. It outlines a framework by which public bodies can use certain covert techniques, will ensuring that any interference with Article 8 rights is necessary and proportionate.

RIPA training

Bond Solon has a variety of RIPA courses available to ensure that local authority staff comply with the relevant regulations when undertaking surveillance projects.

Our RIPA Awareness course is suitable for those who are new to the role and require comprehensive training on the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, whilst our RIPA Refresher course is suitable for those who simply need a refresher of the most recent legislative changes.

We also have several courses suitable for more senior staff members, such as our:

  • RIPA Senior Responsible Officer course.
  • RIPA Applicants and Gatekeepers Training course.
  • RIPA Authorising Officers for Law Enforcement Agencies course.

If you would like more information on Bond Solon’s RIPA training courses or would like to enquire about booking your staff members onto a course, please visit our course page or get in touch with one of the team on +44 (0)20 7549 2549.  

Author: Meera Shah, Content Manager

This article was first published on 02/03/2022

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