Important changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 come into force from 1 November 2012, thanks to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2012, passed last week. This is an extremely important development for local authorities.
Local authorities are empowered under RIPA to use three surveillance techniques: directed surveillance, the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) and accessing communications data. Early in its term, the Coalition government indicated that it would impose additional safeguards on local authorities’ use of such powers, responding in part to concerns aired by Big Brother Watch and others (see our post here and the recent ‘Grim RIPA’ report here). Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 Act amended RIPA so as to require local authorities to obtain the approval of a magistrate for any authorisation for the use of a covert investigatory technique.
The procedure for obtaining judicial approval may be much like that involved in obtaining search warrants. It remains to be seen how magistrates scrutinise the reasoning and evidence supporting an authorisation so as to ensure that the conditions laid down by RIPA – in particular, necessity and proportionality – are satisfied. Ibrahim Hasan has discussed the changes in his Local Government Lawyer piece here.
Last week also saw a second important announcement on surveillance. The government has announced that it is busy with preparatory work on a new CCTV code of practice, with the aim of consulting on the draft code over the autumn and bringing the new one into force in April 2013. Authorities specified in s. 33(5) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 have a duty to have regard to the code, and other system operators will be encouraged to adopt it on a voluntary basis.
The Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne MP, told the House of Commons last week that the government is “committed to ensuring that any deployment in public places of surveillance cameras, including close circuit television (CCTV) and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), is appropriate, proportionate, transparent and effective in meeting its stated purpose”.
Oversight of – and independent recommendations about – the new code will fall to Andrew Rennison, who will remain in post as both surveillance camera commissioner and forensic science regulator until February 2014.
If one adds the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, also passed last week (see my post here), this is clearly a time of great flux in terms of the information law landscape for local authorities in particular.