Rethinking RIPA

On 17 April 2009, the Home Office launched a consultation on plans to stop investigatory powers being used under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) for trivial purposes. It seeks views on questions including: which public authorities should be able to authorise key investigatory techniques, for example, the use of communications data or covert surveillance in public places under RIPA; the purposes for which these investigatory techniques should be used; the option of raising the rank of the local authority employee authorising the use of investigatory techniques to senior executive; and whether elected councillors should play a role in the authorisation. The consultation follows on from a spate of public outcrys about the use of surveillance powers by public authorities, including not least the use of covert cameras by local authorities to watch how residents use their rubbish bins and the use of covert surveillance techniques to track a family which the local authority suspected may be living outside the local school catchment area. The issue of how the investigatory powers available under RIPA should be used is particularly current in view of the recent controversy over techniques used by the police to photograph protesters, many of whom it is argued are merely peaceful demonstrators.