Act Now Training welcomes solicitor and surveillance law expert, Naomi Mathews, to its team of associates. Naomi is a Senior Solicitor and a co-ordinating officer for RIPA at a large local authority in the Midlands. She is also the authority’s Data Protection Officer and Senior Responsible Officer for CCTV.
Naomi has extensive experience in all areas of information compliance and has helped prepare for RIPA inspections both for the Office of Surveillance Commissioners and Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO). She has worked as a defence solicitor in private practice and as a prosecutor for the local authority in a range of regulatory matters including Trading Standards, Health and Safety and Environmental prosecutions. Naomi has higher rights of audience to present cases in the Crown Court.
Naomi has many years of practical knowledge of RIPA and how to prepare for a successful prosecution/inspection. Her training has been commended by RIPA inspectors and she has also trained nationally. Naomi’s advice has helped Authorising Officers, Senior Responsible Officers and applicants understand the law and practicalities of covert surveillance.
Like our other associates, Susan Wolf and Kate Grimley Evans, Naomi is a fee paid member of the Upper Tribunal assigned to the Administrative Appeals Chamber (Information Rights Jurisdiction and First Tier Tribunal General Regulatory Chamber (Information Rights Jurisdiction).
Ibrahim Hasan, director of Act Now Training, said:
“ I am pleased that Naomi has joined our team. We are impressed with her experience of RIPA and her practical approach to training which focuses on real life scenarios as opposed to just the law and guidance.”
Naomi will be delivering our full range of RIPA workshops as well developing new ones. She is also presenting a series of one hour webinars on RIPA and Social Media. If you would like Naomi to deliver customised in house training for your organisation, please get in touch for a quote.
This marks a major milestone in establishing a new oversight regime set out in the Investigatory Powers Act, which was given Royal Assent in 2016. The Act, amongst other things, provides new powers for the police to access communications data e.g. telephone records, internet usage information etc. More on the Act in further blog posts.
Not only does the new commissioner take over the inspection and oversight functions carried out by the previous commissioners, he takes on responsibility for the pre-approval of certain police activities authorised under the Police Act 1997.
The Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office will consist of around 70 staff. This will be made up of:
Around 15 Judicial Commissioners, current and recently retired High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Judges;
A Technical Advisory Panel, of scientific experts; and
Almost 50 official staff, including inspectors, lawyers and communications experts.
Over the next 12 months Judicial Commissioners will start to take on their prior approval functions relating to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, including interception, equipment interference, bulk personal datasets, bulk acquisition of communications data, national security notices, technical capability notices and communications data retention notices. The Judicial Commissioners will be supported in this work by the Technology Advisory Panel.
What impact will this new commissioner have on local authority inspections under Part 2 of RIPA carried out previously by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners (OSC)? I suspect not a lot. The same issues will be considered as previously. The final OSC annual report once again highlights the recurring issue of investigations using social networks e.g. Facebook.
If you have an inspection coming up read our guide here.
Now is the time to consider refresher training for RIPA investigators and authorisers. Please see our full program of RIPA Courses which have been revised to take account of all the latest developments. We can also deliver these courses at your premises, tailored to the audience. Finally, if you want to avoid re inventing the wheel, our RIPA Policy and Procedures Toolkit gives you a standard policy as well as forms (with detailed notes to assist completion) for authorising RIPA and non-RIPA surveillance. Over 200 different organisations have bought this document (available on CD as well).
The guidance is essential reading for public authorities, especially councils, who conduct surveillance under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) (Directed Surveillance, Intrusive Surveillance and the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS)). The guidance also covers Part III of RIPA and RIP(S)A and to Part III of the Police Act 1997. It does not provide guidance on interception and the obtaining of communications data requiring a RIPA/RIP(S)A warrant.
Why should you care?
For reasons which Steve Morris explains in his blog on the latest OSC report, you’re going to face some form of inspection whether or not you have or intend to conduct covert surveillance; so at least understand how that inspection will be approached.
Also, as the Chief Surveillance Commissioner emphasises, every public authority should have in place policies, procedures and training programmes to ensure that relevant legislation is complied with when a situation arises. The OSC P&G will help you understand when relevant situations arise and how they should be approached.
Failure to recognise when the protection of RIPA/RIP(S)A may be sought or to know how to respond in a manner compliant with legislation – that is claiming ignorance – is no longer an option!
Why does the document exist?
When I first joined the OSC there was a best practice document which I believe had been shared with law enforcement agencies. This, combined with inspection reports, did not appear to meet with unanimous approval.
The Police Service attempted to introduce its own ‘Key Principles’ document which was sufficiently inadequate to attract the comment that “this is why the police should not be left to interpret legislation!”
However, I hope that I am not criticised for saying that the Surveillance Commissioners were not entirely comfortable publishing generic principles; they were more accustomed to making judgments on the facts of specific cases.
It is no coincidence that the following disclaimer, changed little since the first edition, is given prominence:
“The opinions expressed within the Interpretation Guidance section of this publication are those of the Surveillance Commissioners. The OSC is not a judicial authority. This Guidance simply indicates the way in which the Commissioners would be minded to construe particular statutory provisions. There is no statutory requirement to publish them but they are a response to frequent requests for guidance from public authorities or are matters raised or identified during the inspection process. In the absence of case law, they are the most reliable indicator of likely judicial interpretation. They are the basis upon which inspections will be conducted and performance assessed by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners. Applicants and Authorising Officers should take note of the interpretations when constructing and considering applications and authorisations for the use of covert powers.”
These are the Surveillance Commissioners’ views. It’s rare that a collective interpretation of law is construed by seven ex-Appeal Court judges and three ex-Circuit judges. During my time, issues were examined and discussed at length during meetings with Commissioners and inspectors. You can imagine that, as Editor, I have happy memories of ‘wordsmithing’ each entry to accommodate the wishes of eminent lawyers!
In effect it is the OSC’s ‘party line’ but the disclaimer should be read in conjunction with paragraph 12. It would be wrong to imply that every member of the OSC agrees with every word in the document, so it is necessary to remember that it is guidance which may easily be altered by facts specific to each case. This is why you’ll find phraseology such as “is capable of being construed as [a type of] surveillance” rather than the definitive “is [a type of] surveillance”. Each Surveillance Commissioner is able to exercise his own judgment when approving authorisations.
RIPA and RIP(S)A are permissive and discretionary powers; the onus is on an authorising officer to decide whether or not to grant an authorisation for covert conduct. Assistant Surveillance Commissioners and inspectors cannot dictate. The aim of the document is to provide a level of consistency in approach from the OSC.
Finally, it is not the task of the OSC to make law; its task is to interpret the law as it is written, not as the Commissioners or others may prefer it. So don’t accuse the OSC of promoting covert conduct which you don’t agree with!
Why publication was resisted?
Partly because of conflict with the Police Service in relation to the ‘Key Principles’ document, and in response to concerns that operational techniques would be exposed, it was decided that the P&G should not be made available to the public. My repeated requests to identify any operational technique in the document that hadn’t already been disclosed by enthusiastic senior investigating officers resulted in no applications. But it was decided that we relied on practitioner transparency which required trust that we would not inhibit legitimate techniques.
When serving in the OSC and today, I am sometimes disappointed with the understanding of some trainers and the quality of their training. Too often legislation, codes of practice and the P&G are regurgitated or misused for commercial gain without improving knowledge or practitioner performance. Sometimes challenging the P&G was used as enticement to attendance or purchase; we were concerned that alternative opinions undermined confidence in the OSC.
I can avow the time and effort that goes into the formulation of this guidance; there is good reason why phrases are used. To protect copyright, to avoid misinterpretation and to prevent others gaining financially from the immense effort of the OSC were, I confess, causes of reticence to provide the document to the public.
In hindsight I believe my advice to the Chief Surveillance Commissioner to prevent public disclosure was misguided. Copies leaked to trainers and OSC silence allowed the media and campaigners to inadequately interpret legislation and its use.
Discussions relating to the Investigatory Powers Bill indicate that the need for regulators to transparently demonstrate how they hold public authorities to account has been recognised. Making the P&G public is a positive step but I am surprised that it is free! It‘s a publication worthy of a charge.
For the remainder of this post I compare the July 2016 version with its predecessor of December 2014. There are many notes useful to practitioners. If you have not read it at least once, you should. Numbers in parenthesis are the relevant note number.
Part 1 – Procedures
Part 1 Section 1 provides detail of how to contact the OSC and matters relating to inspection process and reporting. Part 1 Section 2 provides detail in relation to Commissioner approvals, which apply mainly to law enforcement agencies.
[7-8] Disclosure of inspection reports. This is not new but worth reiterating. There is no requirement – as stated in the Codes of Practice – to notify the OSC of an intention to publicly disclose an inspection report, nor does the OSC promote or discourage the practice. The decision whether or not to publish rests entirely with the chief officer of the public authority inspected.
Part 2 – Guidance
 “I am satisfied” and “I believe” Again, not new but important. Too often authorising officers provide insufficient rationale to support their judgment; relying on the details provided by the applicant. This guidance cautions against lax authorisations. The heading indicates an unexplained difference between RIPA and RIP(S)A which use different requirements. This is likely to be complicated further if the terms in the draft IP Bill are enacted. That Bill currently requires a designated officer to “consider”. I may write another article on the significance of these differences.
 Duration of authorisations and renewals. Added clarification to ensure that electronic systems date/time algorithms do not have the effect of “losing a day” of authorised conduct. This amendment probably reflects the law enforcement agencies tendency to use electronic systems to create and process applications and authorisations. A useful audit is provided by date stamps and automatically generated data which cannot be altered. There have obviously been instances where automatic dates are not accurate. This amendment indicates how an OSC inspector will regard the inaccuracy but it’s a hint that authorising officers should ensure that dates are accurate.
[93-98] Persons, groups, associates and vehicles. These notes provide guidance in to assist public authorities amend authorisations when details are not known at the outset. The final sentence of Note  is amended:
Deleted: “The AO should set parameters to limit surveillance and use review to avoid “mission creep”.
Inserted: “The AO should guide the operational commanders by setting contextual parameters for the use of the “link” approach.” (i.e. where a possible link has previously been identified between individuals to the common criminal purpose being identified.)
There is a new note .
“The Authorising Officer should be updated when it is planned to deploy equipment or surveillance against a freshly identified subject before such deployment is made, to enable him to consider whether this is within the terms of his original authorisation, necessary, proportionate and that any collateral intrusion (or interference) has been taken into account; alternatively, where operational demands make it impracticable for the Authorising Officer to be updated immediately, as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter. This is to ensure that the decision to deploy further devices or surveillance remains with the Authorising Officer and is not delegate to, or assumed by, another, such as the operational commander. Such reviews should be pertinent and can be done outwith the usual formal monthly written review process, provided that the details of the Authorising Officer’s decisions are recorded contemporaneously and formally updated at the next due review. Where the terms of an authorisation do not extend to interference to other subjects (criminal associates) or their property then a fresh authorisation, using the urgency provisions if necessary, will need to be sought.” (My emphasis)
[222-229] Authorisation of undercover officers (UCOs). Note  is amended to enable additional UCOs to be authorised by way of review but indicates that every UCO must be authorised for the correct duration. This reflects the reality that it is frequently necessary to introduce additional UCOs to an investigation (for example to support a legend). Often the identity of additional UCOs will not be known at the outset. Rather than insist on the added bureaucracy of a new authorisation, the Commissioners have indicated that amendment by review (providing the terms of the original authorisation allow it) will not be criticised.
 Covert Surveillance of Social Network Sites (SNS). I advise that all members of local authorities read paragraph 289 in entirety as it’s the conduct most likely to introduce RIPA/RIP(S)A compliance issues. It remains my view that too few public authorities recognise (either deliberately or in ignorance) that the ‘less intrusive’ means that have resulted in decreased authorisations may be the result of not authorising internet investigations on the belief that ‘open source’ or publicly available mitigates RIPA/RIP(S)A consideration. This note provides the OSC’s guidance. Sub-note [289.3] is amended as shown in bold type:
“It is not unlawful for a member of a public authority to set up a false identity but it is inadvisable for a member of a public authority to do so for a covert purpose without an authorisation for directed surveillance when private information is likely to be obtained. The SRO should be satisfied that there is a process in place to ensure compliance with the legislation. Using photographs of other persons without their permission to support the false identity infringes other laws.”
I hope that this background is useful. I hope that my reticence to persuade the former Chief Surveillance Commissioner to make the P&G available to the public is proven to be misguided. Publishing the document is a very positive move in my opinion and is a useful indicator that the Commissioners have come to terms with the need to be public-facing. I applaud the decision.
Disclaimer: Sam Lincoln is a former Chief Surveillance Inspector with the OSC. In that capacity he introduced the OSC Procedures and Guidance and edited it from 2006 to 2013. The opinions expressed in this post are his alone; he does not represent the OSC and OSC endorsement is neither sought nor implied.
Sam has designed our RIPA E-Learning Package which is an interactive online learning tool, ideal for those who need a RIPA refresher before an OSC inspection.
Like our image? It is available as an A3 Poster for the office, We have a small range of them for only £5 for three! Take a look at the link below.
The report covers the period from 1st April 2015 to 31st March 2016 and should be read by public authorities, especially councils, who conduct surveillance under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) (Directed Surveillance, Intrusive Surveillance and the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS)).
We have reviewed the report and below are summaries of comments and sections of particular relevance to public authorities other than law enforcement. (The section numbers from the report are quoted below so that reference to the complete text can be made.)
Reduced use by public authorities Section 2.3.
There is substantially reduced number of authorisations by public authorities, most notably local district and borough councils, who do not deploy their statutory powers, or do so very rarely indeed, and do not intend or expect to do so in future.
However, while they remain vested with these powers, the appropriate structures and training must continue to be in place so that if they come to be exercised, the exercise will be lawful.
This reduction could be related to the substantial budgetary cuts faced by councils and the requirement for Magistrates’ Approval (and other reforms), which took effect on 1st November 2012.
Changed arrangements for inspection of local authorities Section 2.10.
The OSC is to introduce a new system of inspection for some local authorities where the statutory powers have not been used at all, or have been very rarely used in the last three years since a previous inspection, the process will start on paper, with a request for information. An Inspector or Assistant Surveillance Commissioner will visit the authority if there has been any significant increase in the use of the statutory powers, or if the responses to the OSC paper give ground for concern, or if the authority itself requests a personal visit by an Inspector. There will be no automatic visit.
Irregularities Section 4.18.
The total number of reports of irregularities (100) continues to represent a tiny proportion of the total number of authorisations granted during the course of a year. The overwhelming majority are the result of human error.
Irregularities caused by human error reinforces the need for those with responsibilities for ensuring compliance with the statutory provisions to receive regular, updated training, together with the need for continuing robust oversight by senior officers and managers of the processes. In the case of enforcement agencies, including the police, both these requirements are understood. In relation to some of the public authorities which, facing strains on their financial resources either have ceased or virtually ceased to use the statutory powers, and do not envisage using them in the future, training arrangements can sometimes assume a lowly priority. The view of the OSC is that every single authority vested with the relevant statutory powers should have in place structures and training arrangements which will ensure that the exercise of any such powers, even if arising unexpectedly, will be lawful.
Use of covert powers by public authorities other than law enforcement agencies Section 5.10.
From the OSC point of view the principle is clear. The fact that a local authority has elected not to exercise the relevant statutory powers does not remove it from the inspection process. While it retains these powers, which may be exercised at any time, appropriate structures and officials with the requisite training are required.
The “virtual world” Section 2.8.
There is a shift towards criminal activity in or by the use of the “virtual world”. This increases the demands on those responsible for covert surveillance. They need an understanding of the technological advances and myriad types of communication and storage devices which are constantly being updated. They also need assistance about how the statutory powers available to them can or should be applied
Social Networks and the “virtual world” Section 5.17.
Patterns of criminal planning are changing to embrace technological advances. Criminals and terrorists are less likely to meet in public, in parked up cars, with police officers using binoculars and longsighted cameras to follow their movements. Social media and private electronic communications provide greater anonymity for the criminals, and enable their activities to proceed on a global scale. This issue was addressed by my predecessor in his last two reports, and the Surveillance Commissioners have issued guidance on the need for appropriate authorisations to cover these developments.
Extract from OSC Procedures & Guidance document
Covert surveillance of Social Networking Sites (SNS)
The fact that digital investigation is routine or easy to conduct does not reduce the need for authorisation. Care must be taken to understand how the SNS being used works. Authorising Officers must not be tempted to assume that one service provider is the same as another or that the services provided by a single provider are the same.
288.1 Whilst it is the responsibility of an individual to set privacy settings to protect unsolicited access to private information, and even though data may be deemed published and no longer under the control of the author, it is unwise to regard it as ―open source, or publicly available; the author has a reasonable expectation of privacy if access controls are applied. In some cases data may be deemed private communication still in transmission (instant messages for example). Where privacy settings are available but not applied the data may be considered open source and an authorisation is not usually required. Repeat viewing of ―open source sites may constitute directed surveillance on a case by case basis and this should be borne in mind.
288.2 Providing there is no warrant authorising interception in accordance with section 48(4) of the 2000 Act, if it is necessary and proportionate for a public authority to breach covertly access controls, the minimum requirement is an authorisation for directed surveillance. An authorisation for the use and conduct of a CHIS is necessary if a relationship is established or maintained by a member of a public authority or by a person acting on its behalf (i.e. the activity is more than mere reading of the site‘s content).
288.3 It is not unlawful for a member of a public authority to set up a false identity but it is inadvisable for a member of a public authority to do so for a covert purpose without an authorisation for directed surveillance when private information is likely to be obtained. The SRO should be satisfied that there is a process in place to ensure compliance with the legislation. Using photographs of other persons without their permission to support the false identity infringes other laws.
288.4 A member of a public authority should not adopt the identity of a person known, or likely to be known, to the subject of interest or users of the site without authorisation, and without the consent of the person whose identity is used, and without considering the protection of that person. The consent must be explicit (i.e. the person from whom consent is sought must agree (preferably in writing) what is and is not to be done).
Inspectors and the Assistant Surveillance Commissioners pay particular attention to the way this developing method of criminal activity is kept under covert surveillance. The topic forms the basis for numerous requests for guidance. Perhaps the most significant feature is that investigating authorities cannot proceed on the basis that because social networking developed after much of the legislation came into force it is immunised from compliance with it. Requirements for appropriate authorisation may arise from the work done by those whose roles do not traditionally fall within RIPA or RIP(S)A. The necessary training and information must be addressed by the Senior Responsible Officer in each authority.
Some of the more common areas of criticism revealed in the inspection reports. They must be seen in context. In relation to law enforcement agencies, the standard of applications to and decisions of Authorising Officers for directed surveillance, property interference and intrusive surveillance are generally sound. Much of this is due to increased focus on the statutory requirements, clear internal leadership and investment in training.
The greatest complexity arises in the context of CHIS… In the context of social media in particular, it is sometimes difficult to recognise when a CHIS relationship has been established.
Some intelligence cases are too brief, others too long; most are of appropriate length; similarly with reviews, when a pertinent summary of what has happened since the latest update is required with, so far as possible, a simple explanation why the covert activity remains necessary and proportionate;
Occasional formulaic considerations given to the potential for collateral intrusion; for the OSC it remains a crucial feature that any authorisation for covert surveillance should be confined to those against whom there are grounds for suspicion, not their families or friends;
Authorisations for surveillance tactics and equipment use which, when reviews and cancellations are examined, appear to have been too widely drawn at the outset;
The conduct parameters for a CHIS are sometimes unclear and occasionally in such cases, the full extent of risks to the CHIS are insufficiently addressed, or, where the records are required by statute, left incomplete;
At cancellation, occasionally more detail is required from the Authorising Officer about the activity conducted, the value of the surveillance, the resulting product, and its management, and whether there has been any tangible or beneficial outcome, together with greater attention to any collateral intrusion;
In relation to public authorities the need for training for those vested with surveillance responsibilities is sometimes overlooked, particularly when budgets have been seriously depleted; in the case of adjacent local authorities training costs could perhaps be shared.
This is a summary of the detailed annual report – clearly the OSC places a high value on training (mentioned 19 times!), and indicates difficulties that arise as a result of not providing the training for all personnel involved or likely to be involved in authorised activity.
One emerging trend not addressed in the report is the rise in covert surveillance undertaken without the protection of RIPA when a local authority deems it necessary and proportionate to conduct covert surveillance in relation to preventing or detecting crime which does not meet the six month criteria, or a public authority deems it necessary and proportionate to conduct covert surveillance as part of it’s legitimate pursuit of responsibilities in relation to public safety, public health, regulation, and enforcement, in compliance with Article 8 Human Rights (commonly known as ‘non RIPA Surveillance’). See our blog post here for more on this issue.
Act Now’s programme of RIPA Courses address all of the issues raised in the report, and those associated with non RIPA surveillance, research and gathering of intelligence as well as evidence from social media. If your training budget is an issue, our online RIPA training is worth trying out. Module 1 is free.
Act Now also has a RIPA policy and procedures manual which is very useful for those revising their RIPA documents. It contains useful guidance for staff on when RIPA applies and how to complete the authorisation forms.
Raise awareness of RIPA in your organisation with our RIPA poster.
Increasingly local authorities are turning to the online world, especially social media, when conducting investigations. There is some confusion as to whether the viewing of suspects’ Facebook accounts and other social networks requires an authorisation under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). In his latest annual report the Chief Surveillance Commissioner states (paragraph 5.42):
“Perhaps more than ever, public authorities now make use of the wide availability of details about individuals, groups or locations that are provided on social networking sites and a myriad of other means of open communication between people using the Internet and their mobile communication devices. I repeat my view that just because this material is out in the open, does not render it fair game. The Surveillance Commissioners have provided guidance that certain activities will require authorisation under RIPA or RIP(S)A and this includes repetitive viewing of what are deemed to be “open source” sites for the purpose of intelligence gathering and data collation.”
Careful analysis of the legislation suggests that whilst such activity may be surveillance, within the meaning of RIPA (see S.48(2)), not all of it will require a RIPA authorisation. Of course RIPA geeks will know that RIPA is permissive legislation anyway and so the failure to obtain authorisation does not render surveillance automatically unlawful (see Section 80).
There are two types of surveillance, which may be involved when examining a suspect’s Facebook or other social network pages; namely Directed Surveillance and the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS). Section 26 of the Act states that surveillance has to be covert for it to be directed:
“surveillance is covert if, and only if, it is carried out in a manner that is calculated to ensure that persons who are subject to the surveillance are unaware that it is or may be taking place” (my emphasis)
If an investigator decides to browse a suspect’s public blog, website or “open” Facebook page (i.e. where access is not restricted to “friends”, subscribers or followers) how can that be said to be covert? It does not matter how often the site is accessed as long as the investigator is not taking steps to hide his/her activity from the suspect. The fact that the suspect is not told does about the “surveillance” does not make it covert. Note the words in the definition of covert; “unaware that it is or may be taking place.” If a suspect chooses to publish information online they can expect the whole world to read it including law enforcement and council investigators. If he/she wants or expects privacy it is open to them to use the available privacy settings on their blog or social network.
The Commissioner stated in last year’s annual report:
“5.31 In cash-strapped public authorities, it might be tempting to conduct on line investigations from a desktop, as this saves time and money, and often provides far more detail about someone’s personal lifestyle, employment, associates, etc. But just because one can, does not mean one should. The same considerations of privacy, and especially collateral intrusion against innocent parties, must be applied regardless of the technological advances.” (my emphasis)
Where online surveillance involves employees then the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) Employment Practices Code (part 3) will apply. This requires an impact assessment to be done before the surveillance is undertaken to consider, amongst other things, necessity, proportionality and collateral intrusion. Whilst the code is not law, it will be taken into account by the ICO and the courts when deciding whether the DPA has been complied with. In December 2014, Caerphilly County Borough Council signed an undertaking after an ICO investigation found that the Council’s surveillance of an employee , suspected of fraudulently claiming to be sick, had breached the DPA.
Facebook Friends – A Friend Indeed
Of course the situation will be different if an investigator needs to become a “friend’ of a person on Facebook in order to communicate with them and get access to their profile and activity pages. For example, local authority trading standards officers often use fake profiles when investigating the sale of counterfeit goods on social networks. In order to see what is on sale they have to have permission from the suspect. This, in my view, does engage RIPA as it involves the deployment of a CHIS defined in section 26(8):
“For the purposes of this Part a person is a covert human intelligence source if—
(a) he establishes or maintains a personal or other relationship with a person for the covert purpose of facilitating the doing of anything falling within paragraph (b) or (c);
(b) he covertly uses such a relationship to obtain information or to provide access to any information to another person; or
(c) he covertly discloses information obtained by the use of such a relationship, or as a consequence of the existence of such a relationship” (my emphasis)
Here we have a situation where a relationship (albeit not personal) is formed using a fake online profile to covertly obtain information for a covert purpose. In the case of a local authority, this CHIS will not only have to be internally authorised but also, since 1st November 2012, approved by a Magistrate.
This is a complex area and staff who do not work with RIPA on a daily basis can be forgiven for failing to see the RIPA implications of their investigations. From the Chief Surveillance Commissioner’s comments (below) in his annual report, it seems advisable for all public authorities to have in place a corporate policy and training programme on the use of social media in investigations:
“5.44 Many local authorities have not kept pace with these developments. My inspections have continued to find instances where social networking sites have been accessed, albeit with the right intentions for an investigative approach, without any corporate direction, oversight or regulation. This is a matter that every Senior Responsible Officer should ensure is addressed, lest activity is being undertaken that ought to be authorised, to ensure that the right to privacy and matters of collateral intrusion have been adequately considered and staff are not placed at risk by their actions and to ensure that ensuing prosecutions are based upon admissible evidence.”
In conclusion, my view is that RIPA does not apply to the mere viewing of “open” websites and social network profiles. However in all cases the privacy implications have to be considered carefully and compliance with the Data Protection Act is essential.
Regular refresher training for those conducting covert surveillance under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is a common recommendation by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) following inspections. Up to now, public authorities have had a choice of sending their staff on external courses or engaging our RIPA experts to deliver customised in house training at their premises. Both these options have cost implications. Some authorities can only afford to train a handful of staff thereby running the risk of non compliance by others who may not know what RIPA is and when it is engaged.
Enter the new Act Now RIPA E Learning Course. From the comfort of their own desk public authority staff can now receive relevant and up to date training on covert surveillance regulated by Part 2 of RIPA (Directed Surveillance, CHIS and Intrusive Surveillance) including the authorisation process. From as little as £49 plus vat, five interactive modules can be accessed which have a stimulating and creative approach that engages and challenges the learner. Real-life scenarios, knowledge checks, case studies and examples are included to add relevance and increase comprehension and retention. A short final course assessment leads to a certificate.
This course is not just for new staff or those with little knowledge of RIPA. It will also help experience staff to refresh and update their knowledge as it takes into account the latest RIPA codes and new authorisation procedures. Those who are really confident can do the final course assessment first, to test and identify any gaps in their knowledge. These can then be filled by doing each module. The unscored quizzes and interactions within each module and the final scored assessment are designed to challenge even RIPA geeks!
“I was delighted to be commissioned by Ibrahim and his team at Act Now to produce this eLearning course. When I was Chief Inspector at the OSC I was aware that many local authorities, constrained by budget reductions, were attempting to provide their own training in-house. Despite valiant efforts the result was often regurgitation of the codes of practice and ‘death by PowerPoint’ lectures. I wanted to produce something that was more interesting and included interaction, feedback and assessment.”
Upon reviewing the course our RIPA expert and trainer, Steve Morris, said:
“I have had an opportunity to review the finished product and have to say it is a great mix of knowledge, animation and assessment, using many different learning delivery methods to keep the learner engaged. Sam provides clear well-paced narration and his choice of words make the modules easy to follow and understand. I would say the modules are ideal for anyone involved with the management and application of RIPA, whatever their position.”
The Act Now RIPA E Learning Course is suitable for staff in all public authorities but particularly those in local authorities working in trading standards, environmental health, planning, licensing and enforcement.
The Chief Surveillance Commissioner, Sir Christopher Rose, published his final annual report on 25th June 2015. A lot of the report is typical of someone in his position who is leaving office, having a few parting moans. Then again, a £56,000 maintenance fee from the Home Office (paragraph 3.3) for a relatively simple website is well worth moaning about)!
The report covers the period from 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2015 and should be read by public authorities, especially councils, who conduct surveillance under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) (Directed Surveillance, Intrusive Surveillance and the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS)). It details statistics relating to the use of these tactics and information about how the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) conducts its oversight role.
Non-law enforcement agencies (including councils) authorised Directed Surveillance on 2207 occasions in the reporting period. The Department for Work and Pensions completed 25% of these. This continues a downward trend over the last few years. Last year there were 4,412 of such authorisations. Much of this downward trend is due to the continued impact of the changes, which took effect on 1st November 2012; namely magistrates’ approval for council surveillance and a new six-month threshold test for Directed Surveillance.
A total of 373 authorisations were presented to a magistrate for approval under The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 during the reporting period. Just 17 were rejected. The Commissioner continues to be sceptical about the need for the changes saying, “I remain to be convinced of the value of this additional approval procedure which, obviously, promotes delay.”
The Commissioner, just like in his previous report, has expressed concern about the level of RIPA knowledge amongst magistrates:
“I have good reason to believe that training provision for magistrates in relation to RIPA and The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 has been minimal and several councils have ended up providing this themselves to enable the new procedure to work effectively: this is commendable but not, presumably, what Parliament contemplated.” (Para 5.27)
The Commissioner advises caution when conducting online investigations especially where this involves examining social networking sites. A RIPA authorisation may be required in some cases:
“5.42 Perhaps more than ever, public authorities now make use of the wide availability of details about individuals, groups or locations that are provided on social networking sites and a myriad of other means of open communication between people using the Internet and their mobile communication devices. I repeat my view that just because this material is out in the open, does not render it fair game. The Surveillance Commissioners have provided guidance that certain activities will require authorisation under RIPA or RIP(S)A and this includes repetitive viewing of what are deemed to be “open source” sites for the purpose of intelligence gathering and data collation.”
From the Commissioner’s comments at paragraph 5.44 it seems advisable that councils should have in place a corporate policy and training programme on the use of social media in investigations:
“Many local authorities have not kept pace with these developments. My inspections have continued to find instances where social networking sites have been accessed, albeit with the right intentions for an investigative approach, without any corporate direction, oversight or regulation. This is a matter that every Senior Responsible Officer should ensure is addressed, lest activity is being undertaken that ought to be authorised, to ensure that the right to privacy and matters of collateral intrusion have been adequately considered and staff are not placed at risk by their actions and to ensure that ensuing prosecutions are based upon admissible evidence.”
At paragraph 5.47 of the report, the Commissioner lists the main issues that he has commented upon in his inspection reports:
Unsubstantiated and brief, or, conversely, excessively detailed intelligence cases
Over-formulaic consideration of potential collateral intrusion and an explanation of how this will be managed
Limited proportionality arguments by both applicants and Authorising Officers – the four key considerations (identified by my Commissioners and adopted within the Home Office Codes of Practice), if addressed in turn, should provide a suitably reasoned argument
More surveillance tactics and equipment authorised at the outset than appear to have been utilised when reviews and cancellations are examined
A regurgitation of the original application content at reviews, including a “cut and paste” proportionality entry that fails to address why the activity is still justified, in place of a meaningful update to the Authorising Officer about what has taken place in the intervening period
At cancellation, a rarity of meaningful detail for the Authorising Officer about the activity conducted, any collateral intrusion that has occurred, the value of the surveillance and the resultant product; and whether there has been any tangible outcome
Similarly, paltry input by Authorising Officers at cancellation as to the outcome and how product must be managed, and any comment about the use or otherwise of all that had been originally argued for and authorised
In the case of higher level authorisations for property interference and intrusive surveillance, an over-reliance by Senior Authorising Officers on pre-prepared entries that alter little from case to case, or at times, regardless of who is acting as the Authorising Officer
In those same cases, often poorly articulated personal considerations as to the matters of necessity, collateral intrusion and proportionality; no or few entries at reviews; and little meaningful comment at cancellation
On the CHIS documentation, less common, but still encountered, the failure to authorise a CHIS promptly as soon as they have met the criteria; and in many cases (more typically within the non-law enforcement agencies) a failure to recognise or be alive to the possibility that someone may have met those criteria
A huge variation in the standard of risk assessments, whereby some provide an excellent “pen picture” of the individual concerned and the associated risks, whilst others can be over-generic and are not timeously updated to enable the Authorising Officer to identify emergent risks
Discussions that take place between the Authorising Officer and those charged with the management of the CHIS under Section 29(5) of RIPA are not always captured in an auditable manner for later recall or evidence, though this is starting to improve following our advice
As resources become stretched within police forces, the deputy to the person charged with responsibilities for CHIS under Section 29(5)(b) often undertakes those functions: as with an Authorising Officer, this is a responsibility which cannot be shared or delegated
Finally the Commissioner says that during inspections his staff have found that there is “a continuing lack, in many public authorities, of on-going refresher training for officers who may have been trained many years ago, or who have not been eligible for specialised training by dint of career progression or role.”
Now is the time to consider refresher training for RIPA investigators and authorisers. We have a full program of RIPA Courses and can also deliver these at your premises, tailored to the audience. If you want to avoid re inventing the wheel, our RIPA Policy and Procedures Toolkit gives you a standard policy as well as forms (with detailed notes to assist completion) for authorising RIPA and non-RIPA surveillance.
Some may presume that their recommendations persuade the Government to replace the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), its amendments and related legislation, with something entirely new. That presumption may prove accurate.
However, I believe that any replacement is unlikely to substantially adjust the basic tenet of RIPA which is founded on Human Rights legislation. In particular, it is likely to retain the basic principles of necessity and proportionality along with the requirement for public authorities to produce a verifiable and contemporaneous audit of decisions and actions.
Whether or not local authorities in United Kingdom will be enabled by similar discretionary power remains to be seen. But if the effect of the Protection of Freedoms Act is illustrative, taking away the protection of law does not necessarily prevent covert surveillance conducted intentionally or accidentally. It merely removes protection from liability … neither public authorities nor citizens are properly protected.
Unless, as is the case with an interception, forms of covert surveillance are made unlawful without a warrant or authorisation, it is likely that investigatory powers will remain discretionary. Discretion – even if later approved by a designated official external to the relevant investigating authority – attracts misuse by officials if not official misuse.
The demand for better oversight is a key recommendation in both reports and there is an increasing expectation that the public is better informed regarding the potential for or actual abuse of discretionary powers.
Suffice to say that the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, or a body with similar or enhanced responsibility, will remain. Inspection is likely to be a key method to assess compliance and performance.
Impressing an inspector – and thus providing a mechanism to protect reputation and improve trust – should remain a concern to all those who are enabled to conduct surveillance covertly.
In my new E Book “How To Impress An OSC Inspector”,I provide my personal insights regarding how a local authority might best approach an OSC inspection. The information in the book remains relevant regardless of future change to legislation. It is directed at local authorities but is relevant to other public authorities.
Act Now has revised its RIPA Policy and Procedures Toolkit gives you a standard policy as well as forms (with detailed notes to assist completion) for authorising RIPA and non-RIPA surveillance. Now is the time to consider refresher training for RIPA investigators and authorisers. We have a full program of RIPA Coursesand can also deliver these at your premises, tailored to the audience.
Act Now Training is pleased to announce that Sam Lincoln has joined our team of trainers.
Together with, Ibrahim Hasan and Steve Morris, Sam will deliver high quality training and consultancy services in the field of surveillance law particularly on Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Directed Surveillance, Intrusive Surveillance and CHIS).
“He is of complete integrity, hardworking, conscientious, highly intelligent and immensely knowledgeable about the law and practice of covert surveillance by public authorities.”
Sam has a unique perspective on covert surveillance law and practice. During 28 years commissioned service, he served for 18 years in military intelligence in staff, operational command and training appointments many in the covert domain.
Sam’s relevant other work experience includes:
Commanding Officer, Defence Human Intelligence training school
Editor of the OSC Procedures and Guidance publication
Speaker (often keynote) at national and local RIPA conferences
Visiting lecturer College of Policing RIPA Authorising Officer course
International trainer and consultant, Danish Emergency Management Agency
Design and delivery of the European Commission civil protection information management and security courses
Sam is currently working with Act Now to develop an online training module for front line staff on covert surveillance and RIPA. We would be happy to hear from any local authorities who are interested in being a test site for this.
Please get in touch if you would like to engage Sam to deliver in house customised RIPA training. With seven years experience of working for the OSC, conducting and coordinating RIPA inspections, he is in a unique position to be able to help your organisation prepare for an OSC inspection.
PS – Don’t forget, the new RIPA Codes of Practice came into force on 10th December 2014. Read more here.