Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: July 08, 2009
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The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP or RIPA) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, regulating the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, and cover-ing the interception of communications. It was introduced to take account of technological change such as the growth of the Internet and strong encryption.

RIPA is the law governing the use of covert techniques by public authorities. It requires that when public authorities – such as the police or government departments – need to use covert techniques to obtain private information about someone, they do it in a way that is necessary, proportionate, and compatible with human rights.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 9 February 2000 and completed its Parliamentary passage on 26 July.

When does RIPA apply?
RIPA can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

Key Features of RIPA

To make provision for and about:
  • the interception of communications,
  • the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications,
  • the carrying out of surveillance,
  • the use of covert human intelligence sources,
  • the acquisition of the means by which electronic data protected by en-cryption or passwords may be decrypted or accessed.
  • Specially appointed commissioners and a tribunal are charged with specific roles and jurisdiction over matters pertaining to interferences with property or with wireless telegraphy and the functioning of the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters.
  • The 2000 Act established the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to hear complaints about surveillance by public bodies. The Tribunal replaced the Interception of Communications Tribunal, the Security Service Tribunal, and the Intelligence Services Tribunal with effect from 2 October 2000.
Main provisions
  • Regulates the circumstances and methods by which public bodies may carry out covert surveillance in compliance with the requirements of the Human Rights Act.
  • Defines five broad categories of covert surveillance:
  1. directed surveillance (includes photographing people);
  2. intrusive surveillance (includes bugging);
  3. the use of covert human intelligence sources (informants and undercover agent);
  4. accessing communications data (record of emails sent, telephone calls made) and
  5. intercepting communications (i.e., reading content of emails, listening to calls).
  • Allows the secretary of state to issue an interception warrant to examine the contents of letters or communications on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, prevent-ing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. This is the only part of the Act that requires a warrant.
  • Prevents the existence of interception warrants, and any and all data collected with them from being revealed in court.
  • Allows the police, intelligence services, HM Revenue and Customs to demand telephone, internet and postal service providers to hand over detailed communications records for individual users. This can include name and address, phone calls made and received, source and destination of emails, internet browsing information and mobile phone positioning data that records user's location. These powers are self-authorised by the body concerned, with no external or judicial oversight.
  • Enables the government to demand that someone hands over keys to protected information; and makes it a criminal offence to refuse to supply actual encrypted traffic or refuse to disclose an encryption key.
  • Enables the government to force internet service providers to fit equipment to facilitate surveillance.
  • Allows the government to demand an ISP provider provide secret access to a customer's communication.
  • Makes provisions to establish an oversight regime, creates an investigatory powers tribunal and appoints three commissioners.

Codes of Practice under RIPA
The Codes of Practice provide statutory guidance on when and how covert investigative techniques should be authorised, the circumstances in which they should be used, and how they are reviewed and overseen by independent Commissioners. The revised Codes of Practice have been drafted in consultation with practitioners and other stakeholders. They are intended to provide greater clarity on when certain techniques should or should not be used, including by local authorities. They will:

  • ensure that the tests of necessity and proportionality are better understood and applied lawfully, consistently and with common sense;
  • require constituents’ communications with their MPs on constituency business to be treated in the same way as other confidential material;
  • reduce bureaucracy for the police and other public authorities by providing greater clarity on when authorisations are not needed;
  • make further, minor changes to reflect recent legal and operational developments.

The draft Code of Practice on Covert Surveillance and Property Interference covers:

  • directed surveillance (this is relevant to all public authorities specified in Schedule 1, RIPA);
  • intrusive surveillance; and,
  • property interference and wireless telegraphy (entering onto or interfering with property or with wireless telegraphy, for example entering premises covertly in order to facilitate surveil-lance).

Intrusive surveillance and property interference are restricted to key public authorities such as the police and the security and intelligence agencies. No other public authorities, including all local authorities, can use intrusive surveillance or interfere with property under RIPA. The draft Code of Practice on Cov-ert Human Intelligence Sources covers the authorisation by public authorities of the conduct or use of individuals who establish or maintain a relationship with someone else for the covert purpose of acquir-ing information and passing it on to a relevant public authority. This is relevant to all public authorities specified in Part 1 of Schedule 1, RIPA.



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