RIPA policy

Particular circumstances

In all cases, this policy requires investigating officers to undertake early engagement with authorising officers to discuss potential RIPA implications of their investigations. A number of particular circumstances and techniques are discussed below.

Surveillance equipment

Council officers conducting surveillance must endeavour to use equipment at their disposal in a responsible and discrete manner. Officers should be aware that the use of any equipment is restricted to being used in a manner that constitutes covert surveillance only. If there is a risk that the use of such equipment will transform the operation into an intrusive one then the surveillance must cease immediately.

Upon the cessation of surveillance officers should ensure that any equipment is properly checked upon its return to storage. This should include condition and to ensure that material that could fall into the possession of unauthorised staff is removed. An example of this is the removal of digital media that may contain images used for evidence.

If any faults are detected with the equipment this should be brought to the attention of the authorising officer as soon as possible. Under no circumstances should the authorising officer seek to rectify any faults as this could affect the admissibility of the evidence contained on the equipment or obtained by using it.

CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras

The use of overt CCTV cameras by public authorities does not normally require an authorisation under the Act. Similarly, the overt use of ANPR systems to monitor traffic flows or detect motoring offences does not require an authorisation.

However, where overt CCTV or ANPR cameras are used in a covert and pre-planned manner as part of a specific investigation, for the surveillance of a specific person or group of persons, a directed surveillance authorisation should be considered. Such covert surveillance is likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person (a record of their movements and activities) and therefore falls within the definition of surveillance. The use of ANPR or CCTV in these circumstances goes beyond their original intended use.

Online activities

The use of the internet may be required to gather information prior to and /or during an operation, which may amount to directed surveillance. Whenever a public authority intends to use the internet as part of an investigation, they must first consider whether the proposed activity is likely to interfere with a person’s Article 8 human rights, including the effect of any collateral intrusion. Any activity likely to interfere with an individual’s Article 8 rights should only be used when necessary and proportionate to meet the objectives of a specific case. Where it is considered that private information is likely to be obtained, an authorisation must be sought as set out in this policy. Where an investigator may need to communicate covertly online for example for contacting individuals using social media websites, a CHIS authorisation should be considered.

The latest code of practice provides more information regarding RIPA and online activities and training courses for council officers have been adjusted to take account of this. The general position is that whilst the internet is open to all, it should be viewed as no different to a public place, and as such there could be an expectation that a targeted operation to gather information from the internet regarding a specific person could fall within the scope of needing an authorisation. The application of surveillance laws to the internet is a developing field and as such it is helpful to provide pointers as to the matter of degree as to whether an authorisation is less or more likely to be required.

Use of the internet for an investigation (see para 3.10 - 3.17 of CoP)
Factors making the need for an authorisation less likely Factors making the need for an authorisation more likely
  • One off visit
  • General search
  • No recording of information
  • No patterns of an individual’s behaviour built up
  • Frequent visits to the same site
  • Specific search for an individual
  • Information recorded for future use
  • Information provides a pattern of an individual's lifestyle

Tracking devices

Tracking devices which only provide position data do not fall within the scope of RIPA, however the installation of tracking devices onto third party property is likely to constitute property interference and as such an authorisation under the Police Act 1997 would be required. The council is not able to grant such authorisation.

Drones and unmanned Arial vehicles (UAV)

The Council  may  from time to time may wish to make use of  UAVs. In general, the use of a UAV to gather general data would not usually need an authorisation. However, if it is used as part of a specific operation to target an individual then authorisation would need to be considered.

Noise nuisance and similar recordings

This policy requires that recordings made to assist with determination of neighbour nuisance, ASB and similar must be done overtly. The code of practice discusses the application of RIPA to such circumstances and recognises that noise monitoring equipment which only records decibel levels would never need an authorisation. However, whilst covert techniques which record actual sound, and conversations at normal speaking level may well need consideration for authorisation, they are unlikely to pass the tests for an authorisation to be granted meaning they cannot be carried out covertly. Therefore the council’s policy is that such recordings must be carried out overtly, and the council’s corresponding noise policies reflect this. Additionally when officers ask members of the public to complete “diary/log sheets” or invite them to make their own audio or video recordings great care must be taken to avoid establishing a CHIS.

Confidential Information

Where through the use of surveillance, it is likely that Confidential Information will be acquired, the use of this information is subject to an enhanced level of authorisation. This responsibility cannot be delegated. The legislation and Code of Practice requires that the level of authorisation for local authorities is the Head of Paid Service (or in their absence) the person acting as Head of Paid Service.