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Torfaen Council reviews its policy for using covert surveillance

CCTV camera

Torfaen Council is carrying out its annual review of the policies and documents that allow it to use covert surveillance.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was introduced in 2000 to give councils the power to use techniques to gather information to prevent or detect crime. A council report says that “covert investigation techniques” can only be used “in a way that is necessary, proportionate, and compatible with human rights”.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 introduced a new threshold that means councils can only allow surveillance if the crime they are investigating is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of at least six months. Cases that involve selling alcohol or tobacco to underage people are not covered by this threshold. A magistrate must also approve the RIPA before surveillance can start.

Councillors have to review the council’s use of the Act and set the policy for its use at least once a year. Torfaen Council’s Cabinet agreed that annual reviews would be done by the executive member for resources. Councillor Sue Morgan, executive member for resources, will review all of the documents on Wednesday 17 August 2022.

Six council officers are currently authorised to approve the use of surveillance.

The council was last inspected by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in February 2020 and according to a report was told “the information provided demonstrated a level of compliance that removed the requirement for a physical inspection”. In the recommendations the council was told their policy and procedures “are comprehensive and cover many of the relevant issues very well but require some minor updates and consideration could be given to the provision of one consolidated RIPA policy”.

Zero authorisations in the last year

The report for the executive member says that since the last review was done in 2021 there haven’t been any authorisations to carry out covert surveillance. But it does say that the council may buy “new mobile smart camera technology” for use across Torfaen to catch people who are flytipping. The council’s monitoring officer will decide if the camera can be bought for “surveillance to deter fly-tippers.”

Torfaen Council’s flow chart for covert surveillance

One of the documents that Cllr Morgan has to review is the ‘Guidance on Direct Surveillance and Authorisation Under The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It contains this chart to help staff before they start to apply for permission to carry out surveillance.

a flow chart
Council staff use this chart before they follow the procedure to apply for permission to use covert surveillance

Photo credit

Photo by Joe Gadd on Unsplash

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Torfaen Council reviews its policy for using covert surveillance