The Observer recently reported that Home Office officials have developed covert plans to lobby the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in an effort to hasten the adoption of contentious facial recognition technology in high street stores and supermarkets. Critics argue that such technology raises concerns about bias and data privacy.
Despite these objections, the Home Office appears to be pushing for the adoption of facial recognition in stores. The minutes of the recent meeting, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, appear to show Home Office officials agreeing to write to the ICO praising the merits of facial recognition technology in combating “retail crime”. This ignores critics who claim the technology violates human rights and is biased, particularly against darker-skinned people.
Police minister Chris Philp, senior Home Office officials, and the commercial company Facewatch came to an agreement on the covert strategy on 8th March 2023 during a meeting held behind closed doors. Facewatch provides facial recognition cameras to help retailers combat shoplifting. It has courted controversy and was investigated by the ICO earlier this year following a complaint by Big Brother Watch.
Despite finding multiple UK GDPR violations on 28th March, the ICO told Facewatch it would take no further action. The ICO said it “welcomed” remedial steps that Facewatch had taken, or would take, to address the above violations. Those remedial steps have been redacted from public information about the case.
Facial recognition technology has faced extensive criticism and scrutiny, leading the European Union to consider a ban on its use in public spaces through the upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act. However, the UK’s Data Protection and Digital Information (No.2) Bill proposes to eliminate the government-appointed Surveillance Camera Commissioner role and the requirement for a surveillance camera code of practice.
Our forthcoming CCTV workshop is ideal for those who want to explore the GDPR and privacy issues around all types of CCTV cameras including drones and body worn cameras. Our Advanced Certificate in GDPR Practice is a practical scenario based course designed to help delegates gain the confidence to tackle complex GDPR issues in methodical way.
‘AI’ and/or ‘Machine Learning’ as it’s known is becoming more prevalent in the working environment. From ‘rogue algorithms’ upsetting GCSE gradings through to Microsoft 365 judging you for only working on one document all day, we cannot escape the fact that there are more ‘automated’ services than ever before.
For DPOs, records managers and IG officers, this poses some interesting challenges to the future of records, information and personal data.
I was asked to talk about the challenges of AI and machine learning at a recent IRMS Public Sector Group webinar. In the session titled ‘IRM challenges of AI & something called the ‘metaverse’ we looked at a range of issues, some of which I’d like to touch on a little bit below. While I remain unconvinced the ‘metaverse’ is going to arrive any time soon, AI and algorithms very much are here and are growing fast.
From a personal data and privacy point of view, we know that algorithms guide our online lives. From what adverts we see to what posts come up on our feed on Twitter, Facebook etc. How is that not creepy that this algorithm knows more about me than I do? And how does that go before it has mass implications for everyday citizens. What happens if the ‘social algorithm’ works out your sexuality before you or your family has? I work with families that still to this day will abuse and cast out those that are LGBTQ+, so imagine the damage a ‘we thought you’d like this’ post would do.
Interesting questions have been posed on Twitter about ‘deep fake’ videos and whether they are personal data. The answers are mixed and pose some interesting implications for the future. Can you imagine the impact if someone can use AI to generate a video of you doing something you are not meant to? That’s going to take some doing to undo by which time, the damage is done. If you want to see this in action, I’d recommend watching Season 2 of ‘Capture’ on BBC iPlayer.
In an organisational context, if organisations are to use algorithms to help with workload and efficient services it is simple logic that the algorithm must be up to scratch. As the Borg Queen (a cybernetic alien) in Star Trek First Contact once said to Data (a self aware android) “you are an imperfect being, created by an imperfect being. Finding your weakness is only a matter of time”. If anyone can find me a perfectly designed system that doesn’t have process issues, bugs and reliability issues, do let me know.
Many data scientists and other leading data commentators like Cathy O’Neill frequently state that “Algorithms are basically opinions embedded in code”. And opinions bring with them biases, shortcomings and room for error.
Now, that is not to say that these things do not have their advantages – they very much do. However, in order to get something good out of them you need to ensure good stuff goes into them and good stuff helps create them. Blindly building and feeding a machine just because it’s funky and new, as we have all seen time and again, always leads to trouble.
Myself and Olu attended (me virtually and Olu in person) the launch of the AI Standards Hub by the Alan Turning Institute (and others). A fascinating initiative by the ATI and others, including UK Government.
Now why am I talking about this at the moment? Put simply, as I mentioned above, this technology is here and is not going anywhere. Take look at this company offering live editing of your voice, and you may even find this conversation between a google engineer and an AI quite thought provoking and sometimes scary. If anything, AI is evolving at an ever growing pace. Therefore information professionals from all over the spectrum need to be aware of how it works, how it can be used in your organisation, and how you can upskill to challenge and support it.
In recent times the ICO has been publishing a range of guidance on this, including a relatively detailed guide on how to use AI and consider Data Protection implications. While it’s not a user manual it does give some key points to consider and steps to go through.
Right Alexa, end my blog! oh I mean, Hey Siri, end my blog… Darn… OK Google…
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.
The Daily Mail reports today that, “A female doctor is set to be paid more than £100,000 after a judge ruled that her neighbour’s Ring smart doorbell cameras breached her privacy in a landmark legal battle which could pave the way for thousands of lawsuits over the Amazon-owned device.”
Dr Mary Fairhurst, the Claimant, alleged that she was forced to move out of her home because the internet-connected cameras are so “intrusive”. She also said that the Defendant, Mr Woodard, had harassed her by becoming “aggressive” when she complained to him.
A judge at Oxford County Court, ruled yesterday that Jon Woodard’s use of his Ring cameras amounted to harassment, nuisance and a breach of data protection laws. The Daily Sage goes on to say:
“Yesterday’s ruling is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK and could set precedent for more than 100,000 owners of the Ring doorbell nationally.”
Before Ring doorbell owners rush out to dismantle their devices, let’s pause and reflect on this story. This was not about one person using a camera to watch their house or protect their motorbike. The Defendant had set up a network of cameras around his property which could also be used to watch his neighbour’s comings and goings.
Careful reading of the judgement leads one to conclude that the legal action brought by the Claimant was really about the use of domestic cameras in such a way as to make a neighbour feel harassed and distressed. She was primarily arguing for protection and relief under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the civil tort of nuisance. Despite the Daily Mail’s sensational headline, the judgement does not put domestic CCTV camera or Ring doorbell owners at risk of paying out thousands of pounds in compensation (as long as they don’t use the cameras to harass their neighbours!). However, it does require owners to think about the legal implications of their systems. Let’s examine the data protection angle.
Firstly, the UK GDPR can apply to domestic CCTV and door camera systems. After all, the owners of such systems are processing personal data (images and even voice recordings) about visitors to their property as well as passers-by and others caught in the systems’ peripheral vision. However, on the face of it, a domestic system should be covered by Article 2(2)(a) of the UK GDPR which says the law does not apply to “processing of personal data by an individual in the course of purely personal or household activity.” Recital 18 explains further:
“This Regulation does not apply to the processing of personal data by a natural person in the course of a purely personal or household activity and thus with no connection to a professional or commercial activity. Personal or household activities could include correspondence and the holding of addresses, or social networking and online activity undertaken within the context of such activities.”
The judge in this case concluded that the camera system, set up by the Defendant, had collected data outside the boundaries of his property and, in the case of one specific camera, “it had a very wide field of view and captured the Claimant’s personal data as she drove in and out of the car park.” This would take the system outside of the personal and household exemption quoted above, as confirmed by the Information Commissioner’s CCTV guidance:
“If you set up your system so it captures only images within the boundary of your private domestic property (including your garden), then the data protection laws will not apply to you.
But what if your system captures images of people outside the boundary of your private domestic property – for example, in neighbours’ homes or gardens, shared spaces, or on a public footpath or a street?
Then the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA18) will apply to you, and you will need to ensure your use of CCTV complies with these laws.”
Once a residential camera system comes under the provisions of the UK GDPR then of course the owner has to comply with all the Data Protection Principles including the obligation to be transparent (through privacy notices) and to ensure that the data processing is adequate, relevant and not excessive. Data Subjects also have rights in relation to their data including to see a copy of it and ask for it to be deleted (subject to some exemptions).
Judge Clarke said the Defendant had “sought to actively mislead the Claimant about how and whether the cameras operated and what they captured.” This suggests a breach of the First Principle (lawfulness and transparency). There were also concerns about the amount of data some of the cameras captured (Fourth Principle).
Let’s now turn to the level of compensation which could be awarded to the Claimant. Article 82 of the UK GDPR does contain a free standing right for a Data Subject to sue for compensation where they have suffered material or non-material damage, including distress, as a result of a breach of the legislation. However, the figure mentioned by the Daily Mail headline of £100,000 seems far-fetched even for a breach of harassment and nuisance laws let alone GDPR on its own. The court will have to consider evidence of the duration of the breach and the level of damage and distress cause to the Claimant.
This judgement does not mean that Ring door camera owners should rush out to dismantle them before passing dog walkers make compensation claims. It does though require owners to think carefully about the citing of cameras, the adequacy of notices and the impact of their system on their neighbour’s privacy.
The Daily Mail story follows yesterday’s BBC website feature about footballers attempting to use GDPR to control use of their performance data (see yesterday’s blog and Ibrahim Hasan’s BBC interview). Early Christmas gifts for data protection professionals to help them highlight the importance and topicality of what they do!
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.
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.
The key change is the need to ensure the independence of the Designated Person (DP). This is the person within the public authority who has to be satisfied that acquiring the communications data is necessary and proportionate and who signs off the application. Paragraph 3.12 of the new code states that DPs must be independent from operations and investigations when granting authorisations, or giving notices related to those operations.
This policy change was brought about in response to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) Judgment which struck down the Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC) as the Directive did not include sufficient safeguards as to why and by whom such data may be accessed. The Judgment noted that the Directive contained no safeguards in relation to access to the retained data, including in relation to the independence of the person authorising access to the retained data.
The new code requires public authorities to satisfy the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) that they have sufficient measures in place to ensure the DP’s independence. IOCCO have set out certain guidelines. In a nutshell, a DP must not be directly responsible for the operation or investigation (i.e. they should not have a strategic or tactical influence on the investigation). He/she should be far enough removed from the applicant’s line management chain which will normally mean they are not within the same department or unit. Applicants should not be able to choose who the DP will be on a case by case basis (save for in urgent circumstances). Finally, there should be a defined group of DPs in an organisation i.e. a recognised list defined by role and/or position.
Public authorities will need to ensure that they have a formal procedure setting out the arrangements in place to ensure independence. This will be examined by IOCCO during their inspection. It will also explore how the DPs are selected to consider applications and will audit compliance with the code.
There are exceptions to the rule of independence of DPs set out in the IOCCO Circular of the 1st June 2015 advising public authorities of the changes. These exceptions mainly relate to urgent authorisations and where very small teams of investigators mean that independence would be difficult. These exceptions will not normally apply to local authorities.
In all circumstances where public authorities use DPs who are not independent from an operation or investigation (save for the exceptions) this must be notified to the IOCCO at the next inspection. The details of the public authorities and the reasons such measures are being undertaken may be published and included in the IOCCO report.
What Should You Do Now?
Prepare for an IOCCO inspection. The Commissioner still inspects councils despite their infrequent use. Read here what a typical inspection involves.
Review your current DP authorisations and procedures. You may need to nominate additional (independent) DPs
Review training for DPs. Paragraph 3.8 of the code says:
“Individuals who undertake the role of a designated person must have current working knowledge of human rights principles and legislation, specifically those of necessity and proportionality, and how they apply to the acquisition of communications data under Chapter II and this code.”
Do all your DP’s have this knowledge to undertake their role?
Act Now is offering live and interactive webinars for DPs tailored to your organisation. The webinars last for one hour which include an online test. All participants receive a certificate of completion. Get in touch for a quote.