The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report to outline the purpose of the meeting which was to receive the annual update on the intention and restrictions associated with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
RIPA was enacted as part of a suite of legislation flowing from the Human Rights Act 1997. The Act required that when public authorities needed to use covert techniques to obtain private information about someone, they did it in a way that was necessary, proportionate, and compatible with human rights.
RIPA authorised the undertaking of directed surveillance by a local authority only if it was for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder. RIPA powers applied in relation to the Councils regulatory functions only which included littering, fly-tipping, benefit fraud, taxi and private hire vehicle licensing and premises licensing.
Surveillance was only covert if, and only if, it was carried out in a manner that was calculated to ensure that persons who were subject to the surveillance were unaware that it was or might be taking place. There were two parts of the Act: Part 1 related to interception of communications data and Part 2 to undertaking covert surveillance.
The Council could only apply for RIPA authorisations for directed surveillance to investigate offences which attracted a maximum custodial sentence of six months or more and Local Authority authorisations and notices under RIPA for the use of particular covert techniques could only be given effect once an order had been approved by a Justice of the Peace (JP).
Within the Council, the Senior Responsible Officer had overall responsibility for the integrity of the RIPA process, including engagement with Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) inspectors, ensured authorisers were of the appropriate standard and produced quarterly monitoring reports. The RIPA Co-ordinator maintained a central file detailing authorisations, ensured maintenance of practice for RIPA compliance, checked, authorised, reviewed, renewed and cancelled applications and co-ordinated corporate training and raised awareness. The number of authorisers within the Council had been reduced from thirteen to six.
In order to apply for a RIPA Order, a Home Office proforma was completed, checked by the RIPA Co-ordinator and then heard in a closed court. The JP would scrutinise the application and then authorise or decline the application. Completed applications were retained for inspection by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) on an ad hoc basis. Since 2012, no applications made by Middlesbrough Council had been declined.
RIPA Orders were reviewed on a monthly basis for up to three months by a senior officer of the relevant department. If the RIPA Order had achieved its objective or demonstrated that no evidence would be obtained then it had to be terminated immediately by notification to the granting officer. At the end of a three month period a RIPA Order could be extended further but only in very limited circumstances.
During 2014, eleven RIPA applications had been made by Middlesbrough Council for cigarette sales and counterfeit goods, one for counterfeit clothing, one for benefit fraud and one for the sale of alcohol. Out of the total of fourteen applications, sufficient information had been obtained in seven cases and five cases were ongoing.
Whilst there was no fee for a RIPA application, the cost was in officer time and court time. However this cost was not considered prohibitive to the operations.
AGREED as follows:
1. the information presented was received and noted.
2. the Panel agreed that the Councils Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPA) arrangements were fit for purpose.