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Covert Surveillance Policy and Procedure

1. Covert surveillance policy statement

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 - part 2.

Introduction

Buckinghamshire Council is committed to building a fair and safe community for all by ensuring the effectiveness of laws designed to protect individuals, businesses, the environment and public resources.

Buckinghamshire Council recognises that most organisations and individuals appreciate the importance of these laws. The Council will, therefore, use its best endeavours to help them meet their legal obligations without unnecessary expense and bureaucracy.

At the same time the Council has a legal responsibility to ensure that those who seek to flout the law are the subject of firm but fair enforcement action. Before taking such action, the Council may need to undertake covert surveillance of individuals and/or premises. The purpose of this covert surveillance will be to obtain evidence of criminal offences and anti-social behaviour.

Procedure

All covert surveillance shall be undertaken in accordance with the procedures set out in this policy.

Buckinghamshire Council shall ensure that covert surveillance is only undertaken where it complies fully with all applicable laws, in particular the following:

The council shall, in addition, have due regard to all official guidance and codes of practice particularly that issued by the Home Office, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) and the Information Commissioner.

In particular, the following guiding principles shall form the basis of all covert surveillance activity undertaken by the council:

  • all authorisations to carry out covert surveillance shall be granted by appropriately trained and designated authorising officers
  • authorisations for the use of directed surveillance, acquisition of communications data and the use of a CHIS under RIPA will need an order approving the grant or renewal of an authorisation or notice from a JP (a District Judge or lay magistrate) before they can take effect
  • covert surveillance shall only be undertaken where it is necessary to achieve the desired aims
  • covert surveillance shall only be undertaken where it is proportionate to do so and in a manner that is proportionate
  • adequate regard shall be had to the rights and freedoms of those who are not the target of the covert surveillance

Training and review

All Council officers undertaking covert surveillance shall be appropriately trained to ensure that they understand their legal and moral obligations.

The Senior Responsible Officer shall provide a report on the Council’s use of RIPA to the Audit and Governance Committee on a regular basis as deemed appropriate. Annually, the report shall include a review of the effectiveness of this policy and any recommendation for changes to be made, including in the light of the latest legal developments and changes to official guidance and codes of practice.

Senior responsible officer

The Service Director Legal and Democratic Services is the designated Senior Responsible Officer who with the support of the RIPA Co-ordinator is responsible for the integrity of the process within Buckinghamshire Council and maintaining oversight and quality control in relation to RIPA functions and processes.

The RIPA Co-ordinator will have day to day responsibility for RIPA management including the following:

  • maintaining the Central Record of Authorisations together with collating submitted RIPA documentation;
  • day to day oversight of the submitted documents and the RIPA process;
  • organising a training programme and ensuring that relevant officers are fully RIPA trained;
  • raising RIPA awareness within the Council; and
  • liaising with the administration team at the magistrates’ court to arrange a hearing and provide the necessary supporting documents and judicial application to obtain approval from a Justice of the Peace

The Senior Responsible Officer is responsible for engagement with the Commissioners and Inspectors when they conduct their inspections and where necessary, overseeing the implementation of any post inspection action plans recommended or approved by a Commissioner.

Conclusions

All citizens will reap the benefits of this policy, through effective enforcement of criminal and regulatory legislation and the protection that it provides.

At the same time, adherence to this policy, when undertaking covert surveillance, will minimise intrusion into peoples’ private lives and will avoid any legal challenge to the council’s activities or evidence.