The Act provides a regime of primary legislation and codes of practice, which divide covert investigation techniques into categories distinguished to an extent by the degree of intrusion involved. This procedure applies to all investigation and surveillance that may be subject of an authorisation under RIPA.
The Act provides the following investigatory powers:
Part 1(Chapter I) – interception of communications
Part 1 (Chapter II) – the acquisition of communications related data for example, telephone billing data
Part II deals with:
- intrusive surveillance on residential premises or in private vehicles
- directed surveillance, that is covert surveillance in the course of a specific operation
- the use of covert human intelligence sources for example, agents, informants, undercover officers
Part III – deals with the power to seize electronic keys giving access to encrypted computer material
Part IV – provides for scrutiny, complaint procedures and codes of practice.
This policy document relates to the use of directed surveillance and covert human intelligence sources.
RIPA sets out the purposes for which each of these powers may be used, the Agencies and authorities that can use them and who should authorise the use. Authorisation under RIPA gives lawful authority for the use of these methods of obtaining information provided there is compliance with the statutory requirements and procedures. Obtaining an authorisation will ensure that the action is carried out in accordance with law and subject to stringent safeguards against abuse. It will also make the action less vulnerable to challenge under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Services likely to conduct investigations covered by RIPA are planning, environmental health, housing, benefits and audit. However, before conducting an investigation using methods or techniques covered by this Act, the officer doing so is required to seek the necessary authorisations.
Care must be taken that covert surveillance does not become intrusive surveillance. Intrusive surveillance is only available to the Home Office, MI5 and certain other central government bodies, not to councils.
Intrusive surveillance is defined in section 26(3) of RIPA: Only if covert and
- carried out in relation to anything taking place on residential premises or in a private vehicle and
- involves the presence of an individual on the premises or vehicle or is carried out by a surveillance device.