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Surveillance: Local Authorities

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 22 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if she will place in the Library a copy of each inspection report produced by surveillance inspectors of the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners relating to local authority activities in the last 12 months; (202836)

(2) if she will place in the Library a copy of the form that local authorities must complete to be authorised to conduct a directed surveillance operation;

(3) if she will place in the Library a copy of the guidance given to local authorities by (a) her Department and (b) the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners on surveillance;

(4) how many local authorities are authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to undertake surveillance; and for what purposes;

(5) if she will make a statement on the appropriateness of local authorities undertaking surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in relation to whether families live in school catchment areas.

The Office of Surveillance Commissioners is independent of Government and it is a matter for them whether to publish their inspection reports on individual local authorities. There are no plans currently to do so. However, the annual reports of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner are published and copies are in the Library.

The most recent version of the form available to local authorities for the authorisation of directed surveillance is available together with other standard forms applicable to covert investigation on the Home Office security website. The Home Office security website and the website of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners contain copies of the relevant codes of practice and other guidance to local authorities, including the annual reports of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners. The websites can be accessed at the following addresses:

http://security.homeoffice.gov.uk; and

http://www.surveillancecommissioners.gov.uk

There are 468 primary councils, excluding parish and community councils, which are able to authorise directed surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. That Act specifies that they are able to use directed surveillance for the purpose of preventing or of detecting crime or disorder and this includes fraud. The powers are used in the exercise of their regulatory responsibilities in such areas as investigating trading standards, housing and planning matters, benefit fraud and education services.

It would be unhelpful to comment on specific cases but, generally, determining whether a family lives in a school’s catchment area is a proper regulatory function that a local education authority may undertake. In deciding whether to authorise directed surveillance, the authorising officer in the local authority is required to be satisfied in each case that this is both necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by carrying it out. This will include whether the information could reasonably be obtained by any other means. Local authority use of directed surveillance powers is subject to regular inspection by the independent Office of Surveillance Commissioners. Anyone who believes that they have been unlawfully targeted by a public authority’s use of covert investigatory powers can apply to the independent Investigatory Powers Tribunal to investigate their claim. The Tribunal can be contacted at PO Box 33220, London SW1H 9ZQ. Its telephone number is 020 7035 3711.