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Parliament of the United Kingdom
|Royal Assent||28 July 2000|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Official text of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database|
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (c.23) (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 covering the interception of communications. It was ostensibly introduced to take account of technological change such as the growth of the Internet and strong encryption.
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, that is, any grounds can be covered at will under its exceedingly broad scope.
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.
Although RIPA originally listed public authorities such as local councils for some kinds of covert surveillance, in September 2003 Home Secretary David Blunkett announced additions to the list of those entitled to access certain types of communications data collected under RIPA in what civil rights and privacy campaigners[who?] dubbed a "snoopers' charter". Following a public consultation and Parliamentary debate, however, Parliament approved the new additions in December 2003, April 2005, July 2006 and February 2010.
RIPA regulates the manner in which certain public bodies may conduct surveillance and access a person's electronic communications. The Act:
|Type||Typical use||Reasons for use||Type of public authority permitted to use||Level of authorisation required|
|Interception of a communication||Wire taps and reading post||In the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime and for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom||Defence Intelligence, GCHQ, HM Revenue and Customs, Secret Intelligence Service, Security Service and territorial police forces of Scotland||Warrant from Home Secretary or Cabinet Secretary for Justice|
|Use of communications data||Information about a communication, but not the content of that communication (phone numbers, subscriber details)||In the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in the interests of public safety, for the purpose of protecting public health, for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department and for the purpose, in an emergency, of preventing death or injury or any damage to a person’s physical or mental health, or of mitigating any injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health.||As listed below||Senior member of that authority|
|Directed surveillance||Following people||In the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in the interests of public safety, for the purpose of protecting public health and for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department.||As listed below||Senior member of that authority|
|Covert human intelligence sources||Informers||In the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in the interests of public safety, for the purpose of protecting public health and for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department.||As listed below||Senior member of that authority|
|Intrusive surveillance||Bugging houses/vehicles||In the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime and in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.||GCHQ, Secret Intelligence Service, Security Service, Ministry of Defence, armed forces, Her Majesty's Prison Service or Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The territorial police forces, the Ministry of Defence Police, the British Transport Police, the Royal Navy Regulating Branch, Royal Military Police, Royal Air Force Police and HM Revenue and Customs.
|Authorisation from Home Secretary or Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Authorisation from the head of the relevant agency: chief constable of any of the territorial police forces, the Ministry of Defence Police or the British Transport Police, the Provost Marshals of the Royal Navy Regulating Branch, Royal Military Police or the Royal Air Force Police and any customs officer designated for the purposes by the Commissioners of Revenue and Customs.
The type of communications data that can be accessed varies with the reason for its use, and cannot be adequately explained here. Refer to the legislation for more specific information.
The reasons for which the use of directed surveillance & covert human intelligence sources is permitted vary with each authority. Refer to the legislation for more specific information.
The reasons for which the use of directed surveillance is permitted vary with each authority. Refer to the legislation for more specific information.
Critics claim that the spectres of terrorism, internet crime and paedophilia were used to push the act through and that there was little substantive debate in the House of Commons. The act has numerous critics, many of whom regard the RIPA regulations as excessive and a threat to civil liberties in the UK. Campaign group Big Brother Watch published a report in 2010 investigating the improper use of RIPA by local councils. Critics such as Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons home affairs committee, have expressed concern that the act is being abused for "petty and vindictive" cases. Similarly, Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South has urged councils to stop using the law, accusing them of acting like comic strip detective Dick Tracy.
Another concern is that the Act requires sufficiently large UK Internet Service Providers to install technical systems to assist law enforcement agencies with interception activity. Although this equipment must be installed at the ISPs' expense, RIPA does provide that Parliament will examine appropriate funding for ISPs if the cost burden became unfairly high.
In April 2008, it became known that council officials in Dorset put three children and their parents under surveillance, governed by RIPA, at home and in their daily movements to check whether they lived in a particular school catchment area. Council officials carried out directed surveillance on the family a total of 21 times. This was in the context of rules which allow people who live in the school catchment area to enjoy advantages in obtaining a place at a popular school. The same council put fishermen under covert surveillance to check for the illegal harvesting of cockles and clams in ways that are regulated by RIPA. Other councils in the UK have conducted undercover operations regulated by RIPA against dog fouling and fly-tipping. Despite claims in the press that local councils are conducting over a thousand RIPA-based covert surveillance operations every month for petty offences such as under-age smoking and breaches of planning regulations, the Office of Surveillance Commissioners' last report shows that public bodies granted 8,477 requests for Directed Surveillance, down over 1,400 on the previous year. Less than half of those were granted by Local Authorities, and the commissioner reported that, "Generally speaking, local authorities use their powers sparingly with over half of them granting five or fewer authorisations for directed surveillance. Some sixteen per cent granted none at all." David Smith, deputy commissioner at the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) has stated that he is concerned about the surveillance which has taken place in Poole. In June 2008, the chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, sent out a letter to the leaders of every council in England, urging local governments not to use the new powers granted by RIPA "for trivial matters", and suggested "reviewing these powers annually by an appropriate scrutiny committee".
Especially contentious was Part III of the Act, which requires persons to supply decrypted information (which had been previously encrypted by the owner) and/or the cryptographic key to government representatives. Failure to disclose these items is a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of two years in jail. Using the mechanism of secondary legislation, some parts of the Act required activation by a ministerial order before attaining legal force. Such orders have been made in respect of the relevant sections of Part I and Part II of the RIP Act and Part III. The latter became active in October 2007. The first case where the powers were used was against animal rights activists in November 2007.
A number of offences have been prosecuted involving the abuse of investigatory powers. Widely reported cases include the Stanford/Liddell case, the Goodman/Mulcaire Royal voicemail interception, and Operation Barbatus.
Cliff Stanford, and George Nelson Liddell pleaded guilty to offences under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2005. They were found to have intercepted emails at the company Redbus Interhouse. Stanford was sentenced to six months' imprisonment suspended for two years, and fined £20,000. It was alleged Stanford had intercepted emails between Dame Shirley Porter and John Porter (Chairman of Redbus Interhouse). In 2007, News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman was sentenced to four months in jail for intercepting the voicemail of members of the Royal Family. His associate Glenn Mulcaire received a six-month sentence.
In 2007, Operation Barbatus exposed a sophisticated criminal surveillance business organised by corrupt police officers. A former Metropolitan Police officer, Jeremy Young, was jailed for 27 months for various offences including six counts of conspiracy to intercept communications unlawfully. A second former policeman, Scott Gelsthorpe, was sentenced to 24 months for offences including conspiracy to intercept communications unlawfully. 3 other former police officers and a private detective were also jailed for their part in running a private detective agency called Active Investigation Services.
In 2008, four people were cautioned for 'Unlawful intercepting of a postal, public or private telecommunications scheme', under S.1(1), (2) & (7). The circumstances of the offences are not known at the time of writing. Three people were tried for 'Failure to disclose key to protected information' under S.53 (of which 2 were tried). One person was tried for 'Disclosing details of Section 49 Notice' under S.54.
In August 2009 it was announced that two people had been prosecuted and convicted for refusing to provide British authorities with their encryption keys, under Part III of the Act. The first of these was sentenced to a term of 13 months' imprisonment. In a 2010 case, Oliver Drage, a 19 year old takeaway worker being investigated as part of a police investigation into a child exploitation network, was sentenced, at Preston Crown Court, to four months imprisonment. Mr Drage was arrested in May 2009, after investigating officers searched his home near Blackpool. He had been required, under this act, to provide his 50-character encryption key but had not complied.
In a further case in 2010 Poole Borough Council was accused of spying unfairly on a family. Although the Council invoked powers under RIPA to establish whether a family fell into a certain school catchment area, when taken before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal it was found guilty of improper use of surveillance powers.
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.
Between 2000 and 2009 the Tribunal has only upheld 4 out of 956 complaints.
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