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Use of Covert Surveillance, Covert Human Intelligence Sources, and Acquisition of Communications Data

Covert Surveillance

Lewes and Eastbourne Councils have power to conduct ‘directed surveillance’ to prevent or detect serious criminal offences.  Directed surveillance occurs where the surveillance is covert; carried out for the purposes of a specific investigation or specific operation; done in such a manner as is likely to obtain private information about a person; and undertaken otherwise than by way of an immediate tactical response to events or circumstances.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources

The Councils also have power to use undercover operatives (known officially as ‘covert human intelligence sources’) to prevent or detect criminal offences.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and codes of practice

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) sets out a framework to regulate how certain types of covert surveillance – including directed surveillance – and the use of covert human intelligence sources are carried out.  It aims to ensure that human rights concerns are addressed at all times, and to ensure that potentially invasive surveillance is carried out only where it is a necessary and proportionate response to the situation.   Codes of practice issued by the Home Office help public authorities assess and understand whether, and in what circumstances, it is appropriate to use these covert techniques.  The codes also provide guidance on what procedures need to be followed in each case.

Acquisition of Communications Data

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 sets out the circumstances and conditions in which the Councils may lawfully gather certain types of communications data.  This operating framework and its related procedures are detailed in the relevant Home Office code of practice.

The Councils’ Use of These Powers

Across the Eastbourne and Lewes areas, we would use the above powers only by exception and as a last resort.  Officers considering any of the these investigative techniques must follow a detailed process which requires senior officers of the council to review and authorise the activity before seeking approval from a magistrate or district judge (in the case of directed surveillance the use of a covert human intelligence source) or from the Office for Communications Data Authorisations.  Approval is dependent on a number of factors, primarily whether the proposed investigation activity is necessary and proportionate.

Our internal authorising officers are Tim Whelan, Director of Service Delivery; and Peter Finnis, Assistant Director for Corporate Governance.

Oversight

The Councils’ policies on the use of these powers are subject to annual review by the Audit and Standards Committee and the Audit and Governance Committee.  At national level, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office provides independent oversight of the use of investigatory powers by public authorities.  Its purpose is to oversee how these powers are used, taking account of the public interest and ensuring that investigations are conducted in accordance with the law.

Need more information?

The Councils’ policies on the use of these powers are available for download below.

If you have any queries about these policies, please contact our RIPA Monitoring Officer, Oliver Dixon, at oliver.dixon@lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk

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