Members received a presentation on amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPA) Act 2000 arising from the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
RIPA regulated how public authorities undertook covert surveillance or intercepted communications data in order to gain evidence against people who were possibly undertaking serious offences. During the last year the Council had not received any applications for checking peoples communications but there had been some surveillance operations across the Authority. There were strong links with Article 8 (Human Rights) under RIPA and peoples right to privacy and family life had to be respected.
Twenty-four RIPA applications were made during 2012 and sufficient evidence was found in eight of the investigations to take the case further. The areas investigated included cigarette sales/counterfeit goods, anti-social behaviour, benefit fraud and illegal firework sales. To date there had been one application during 2013 and an investigation was ongoing.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 had amended RIPA in two key areas. Covert operations could only be undertaken when the crime being investigated carried a six month custodial sentence and judicial approval was now required. The impact of the changes to the regulations would be minimal in Middlesbrough as the majority of operations were in relation to the sale of cigarettes/counterfeit goods/alcohol to children and did not include low level crimes such as dog fouling and littering.
A new internal process had been established prior to approval being sought from the Magistrates. The role of the Magistrates was to ensure the application was proportionate. It was important for Officers to put all the details in the application for the Court to consider. Officers also needed to ensure that they had used all other alternative methods available to them prior to making an application for covert surveillance. Applications could also be renewed. At the present time the Magistrates service was free of charge.
The Council had a regular session booked in the Courts every Tuesday when RIPA applications could be considered. Applications could also be approved on the same day if urgent.
As a result of a report from the Office of Surveillance Commissioner, the Council had established a new management structure for RIPA. Within the Council there was the Senior Responsible Officer, with overall responsibility for the process, the RIPA Co-ordinator, who managed all the operational processes and policies to ensure that applications met the requirements of the Act, and another six Officers who could authorise applications so long as they understood the case. The RIPA Co-ordinator would also provide annual training for the Officers.
It was confirmed that CCTV was sometimes used for surveillance but this was covered by the Data Protection Act rather than RIPA. It was also clarified that whilst the Police could listen to both landline and mobile telephone calls, the Local Authority could not.
It was highlighted that overt surveillance was also used and people were alerted in writing to the fact that they were going to be monitored. An example was given that parents of children causing anti-social behaviour might receive a warning letter informing them that their children would be monitored by CCTV if efforts were not made to improve their behaviour in public.
1. The information presented be received and noted.
2. An example of a warning letter in relation to carrying out surveillance would be circulated to Members of the Panel for information.