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Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

Volume 714: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2009


My honourable friend the Minister of State for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (David Hanson) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) marked a major step in the protection of privacy. Prior to RIPA, many of the more intrusive techniques which it regulates could be used by any public authority and authorised at any level, for any purpose. There was no comprehensive system of independent oversight, no independent judicial complaints mechanism available in relation to all these techniques, and no means by which Parliament could prescribe the ranks of authorising officers or limit the purposes for which the techniques could be used. In addressing this situation, RIPA ensured that only specified public authorities could continue to use certain key techniques to protect the public, and only if they could do so compatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights and, particularly, the Article 8 right to respect for private and family life.

Nevertheless, a small number of local authorities have authorised techniques under RIPA in circumstances when most of us would say it was not necessary or proportionate for them to do so. In order to prevent this happening again, my department published on Friday 17 April a consultation paper entitled Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Consolidating Orders and Codes of Practice. This paper set out proposals to ensure that techniques regulated in RIPA can continue to be used when they are necessary and proportionate, but that there is no repetition of the small number of cases when they have been misused.

Today I am publishing a summary of the responses submitted as part of this consultation exercise. The summary explains how I intend to develop the proposals set out in the consultation paper in light of the responses received.

My department received 222 responses to the consultation exercise. As explained in the summary, most of the responses were broadly supportive of the proposals in the consultation document. Subject to minor changes set out in the summary, I intend to take forward the proposals for secondary legislation described in the consultation document as soon as possible. The secondary legislation, and the related codes of practice, will include measures to:

clarify the test of necessity and proportionality so techniques will not be used for trivial purposes such as investigating dog fouling or people putting bins out a day early;

raise the rank of authorising officer for RIPA techniques in local authorities to senior executive at a minimum of director level;

give elected councillors a role in overseeing the way local authorities use covert investigatory techniques;

require constituents’ communications with MPs on constituency business to be treated as confidential information, and therefore subject to authorisation by a higher rank of officer;

treat covert surveillance of legal consultations as intrusive rather than directed surveillance, meaning that it can be carried out only by a very limited number of public authorities, primarily the police and intelligence agencies, and only with independent approval; and

clarify how provisions currently in the Policing and Crime Bill will reduce bureaucracy relating to RIPA in police collaborative units comprising two or more forces.

Following a proposal by the Local Government Association, I intend to require each local authority to appoint a single official to be responsible for ensuring that all authorising officers are of an appropriate standard. This new role will have to be filled by a member of the corporate management team to whom authorising officers will report.

A number of respondents suggested that the key to effective and appropriate use of RIPA techniques was training, rather than the rank of authorising officers. With this in mind, I have asked my officials to work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services to establish a package of accredited training for local authority authorising officers, and, in addition, to prepare bespoke written guidance on how local authorities should use RIPA.

It is absolutely clear that a wide range of public authorities need to be able to authorise key techniques under RIPA in order to protect us from those who would do us harm. It is equally clear that public authorities must respect our right to privacy and use techniques under RIPA only when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. I believe the measures outlined in the summary of responses will ensure that both objectives can be met.