The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or RIPA for short – the law that controls covert surveillance, the use of informants and getting access to communications data such as telephone subscribers details, during investigations.

It applies to Local Authority Officers and there have been some widely publicised inappropriate uses of the techniques in the past leading in part to a reform that came into force on 1st November 2012.

Now the techniques cannot be used by Local Authorities for low level crime such as littering, dog control and fly-posting. To be used the crime under investigation must be one punishable by at least 6 months in prison or relate to underage sale of alcohol or tobacco.

Any use of the techniques has to be internally approved by senior officers and now a Justice of the Peace has the final say. The internal approvers have to consider if it is necessary to use the techniques and whether the intrusion of privacy is proportionate given the seriousness of the offence.

The whole process is overseen by the Office of the Information Commissioner who advises Local Authorities on their use of RIPA and reports annually to the Prime Minister and Scottish Ministers.

As an Authorising Officer with many years experience I passionately believe in demonstrably respecting individuals human rights along with those of the communities that are served. I also know that investigations need to be concluded in a cost effective way to ensure value for money for local council tax payers and I don’t view RIPA as a barrier to this. There are many other investigative techniques that can be employed and utilised – it may just take a little more time and ingenuity but that is a price worth paying to demonstrate respect for basic human rights.

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