Surveillance powers

Councils can undertake covert surveillance to detect or stop a criminal offence. Although it’s not a regular occurrence, some County Council staff might need to use such secret surveillance as part of their official duties.

Known as ‘covert directed surveillance’, it is used for specific investigations, where the subject of the surveillance is unaware that it is happening. This is likely to result in getting private information about a person – whether or not it is specifically for the purpose of the investigation.

We may have to use sources such as undercover officers or informants to get information about another person without their knowledge. These sources would be used rarely and only in exceptional circumstances. We may also access telephone subscriber, billing and account information.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)

RIPA sets out a framework to make sure that we are undertaking these activities lawfully and we don’t compromise the rights of anyone we investigate. We are inspected regularly to make sure that we comply with RIPA.

Every case of covert directed surveillance or access to communications data must be authorised by designated council officers. Strict tests are carried out before authorisation is given for any activity. From 1 November 2012 local authorities are required to obtain judicial approval prior to using covert techniques, ensuring further safeguards in respect of such activites.

Our powers are set out in the act and you can download our policy below.