The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (the Act) was introduced by Parliament in 2000. The Act sets out the reasons for which the use of directed covert surveillance (DS) and covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) may be authorised.
Local Authorities' abilities to use these investigation methods are restricted in nature and may only be used for the prevention and detection of crime or the prevention of disorder. Local Authorities are not able to use intrusive surveillance.
Widespread, and often misinformed, reporting led to public criticism of the use of surveillance by some Local Authority enforcement officers and investigators. Concerns were also raised about the trivial nature of some of the 'crimes' being investigated.
This led to a review of the legislation in 2009, leading to revised legislation that came into force on 6 April 2010.
In addition to defining the circumstances when these investigation methods may be used, the Act also directs how applications will be made and how, and by whom, they may be approved, reviewed, renewed, cancelled and retained.
The Act must be considered in tandem with associated legislation including the Human Rights Act (HRA), and the Data Protection Act (DPA).
The purpose of Part II of the Act is to protect the privacy rights of anyone in a Council's area, but only to the extent that those rights are protected by the HRA. A public authority, such as the Council, has the ability to infringe those rights provided that it does so in accordance with the rules, which are contained within Part II of the Act. Should the public authority not follow the rules, the authority looses the impunity otherwise available to it. This impunity may be a defence to a claim for damages or a complaint to supervisory bodies, or as an answer to a challenge to the admissibility of evidence in a trial.
Further, a Local Authority may only engage the Act when performing its 'core functions'. For example, a Local Authority may rely on the Act when conducting a criminal investigation as this would be considered a 'core function', whereas the disciplining of an employee would be considered a 'non-core' or 'ordinary' function.
Examples of when local authorities may use RIPA and CHIS are as follows:
The examples do not replace the key principles of necessity and proportionality or the advice and guidance available from the relevant oversight Commissioners.
The RIPA (Communications Data) order came into force in 2004. It allows Local Authorities to acquire communications data, namely service data and subscriber details for limited purposes. This order was updated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Communications Data) Order 2010.
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