Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

This legislation is a very powerful piece of legislation which allows the state to use directed surveillance such as overt (CCTV) or covert cameras, use electronic means like phone tapping and use "Covert Human Intelligence Sources" or CHIS's, also commonly known as 'informants.' When this was first introduced I was a Police Inspector and I agreed with it, thinking it was to target major criminals, drug dealers and terrorists. Never did I imagine though that it would be used for minor infarctions like 'fly tipping,' neighbourhood disputes, anti social behaviour and the like. Big Brother Watch have recently produced a report the Grim RIPA which highlights the extensive uses that local authority makes of the legislation which targets low level crime and nuisances.

Plaid Panteg has summarised the use of RIPA by Torfaen Council here and I wholeheartedly agree with Marcus's observations.

In Wrecsam (Page 64) there have been 31 uses of RIPA 2008 to 2010 with only 2 prosecutions arising from the authorisations, a paltry 6.5%. They were predominantly for Illegal waste/Fly Tipping (9), Drug dealing (9) and Noise Nuisance (8). What I find worrying here is why did Wrecsam Council get 9 RIPA authorisations to deal with 9 cases of drug dealing when the Police should have applied for those authorisations.

Back in March I became aware that regulations around RIPA were being changed to allow local elected members more powers to challenge and scrutinise RIPA policy etc and I used the opportunity to raise the matter with Scrutiny staff, This was the email I sent:

I presume that scrutiny of the Council's use of this legislation falls to Corporate Governance Scrutiny Committee. The use of this legislation has serious privacy and civil liberties issues as it allows for covert surveillance i.e. fly tipping. It was originally designed to target 'top notch' criminals but its use has now been extended to all areas of our lives. There is a Commissioner who has an overview of this process and inspects procedures and record keeping. I am not aware that any oversight committee of the Council has ever received a report following an inspection.

I was particularly pleased to note that in the latest issue of LACORS that new RIPA Orders have been finalised and come into force on the 6th April 2010, these orders require:
1. Higher rank officers authorise use of RIPA - What level will operate in WCBC?
2. Who will lead on this on SMT at WCBC?
3. Councillors should review WCBC use of Act and set policy annually.
4. Councillors also to consider internal reports on the use of the Act, at least on a quarterly basis (There is nothing on the forward work programme)

Would it be possible to have a report on how the Authority intends to comply and what the scrutinising procedures will be.

Following on from that, I had a meeting with the Strategic Director who leads on RIPA, the Chief Legal and Democratic Officer and the Leader of the Council where I was reassured that the Commissioner who inspect Wrecsam's use of RIPA was satisfied with our proportionate use. Despite a requirement to bring annual reports to Scrutiny and the Executive Board the last opportunity Wrecsam Councillors had of scrutinising RIPA use was a report in June 2008.

I am still waiting for any reports on the introduction of the new RIPA Orders.

Perhaps readers of this blog will check the data for their own authorities and where necessary challenge them on their use of of RIPA powers. Elected Members in Ceredigion should be particularly concerned as their authority was the only one in Wales who failed to respond to Big Brother Watch's FOI request within 27 days.

1 comment:

Plaid Panteg said...

Thanks guys.

Have updated my post with a link to yours now.