Below are excerpts from an email which I sent to selected councillors in advance of them receiving the report of an internal review into Cambridge City Council’s use of its powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Cllrs Nimmo-Smith, Ward and Herbert,
Cambridge City Council’s internal review of the Council’s use of powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is due to be presented to councillors at the at the Strategy & Resources Scrutiny Committee, which you are members of, at 17.00 on Monday the 1st of September.
The report claims to include a summary of the council’s use of directed surveillance. However the deployment of cameras to cover the river bank at Jesus Green during April and May 2008 is not included in the list. It is my opinion that this deployment was to monitor a small group of individuals, namely the independent punters who were operating from the Jesus Green river bank. These cameras were poking though small holes in the wooden bowling pavilion on the green and were behind wire mesh. In my opinion they were not highly visible and the area they covered was not clearly signed, though signage was improved during the period of the deployment. I accept it is a grey area as to if these cameras were covert or not, but believe that according to both the council’s code of practice on CCTV usage and the RIPA, authorisation for their deployment was required.
I was told by Alastair Roberts, Safer Communities Section Manager at the City Council, that with respect to these cameras that “the collection of data is subject to the same rules as those that apply to any Council owned CCTV installation.”
“If a known individual(s) is the target this becomes ‘Direct Surveillance’ and the deployment will additionally have to be authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.”
This internal review shows that this authorisation was not given with respect to the deployment of cameras on Jesus Green to monitor independent punters.
I also note that this current review has a different interpretation of the RIPA to the RCCTV deployment guidelines. The review states only covert directed surveillance requires RIPA authorisation, whereas the RCCTV deployment guidelines state direct surveillance, covert or not, requires authorisation.
It appears that some sections of the City Council are deploying CCTV cameras in contravention of the City Council’s code of practice on CCTV usage.
The occurrence at Jesus Green draws attention to a flaw in this report in that it only reports deployments which council officers have determined require authorisation under RIPA. Those deployments where officers determined RIPA authorisation was not required are ignored, it is those which are just on the ‘authorisation not required’ side of the line which in my view are most in need of the scrutiny of councillors. As all instances where council officers believe “RIPA did not apply” are excluded from the internal review there does not appear to have been any chance of the review uncovering incidences where an incorrect judgement has been made by officers. In my opinion the monitoring of independent punters on Jesus Green was just the sort of case, where the proportionality of CCTV deployment is controversial and questionable which ought to have be reviewed.
I wrote to the council asking that the deployment at Jesus Green be included in this review on the 14th of July 2008. My request has clearly been ignored by those conducting the review.
The report does not identify the terms of reference of the review or the methodology followed, these omissions make it hard to judge its credibility.
I note this scrutiny meeting has not specifically invited evidence from the public as Sir Simon Milton’s letter suggested, though I am aware there are arrangements for members of the public to speak at many of Cambridge City Council’s meetings including this one.
I urge you to condemn the report’s omission of the deployment of cameras at Jesus Green, and to demand consistent, legally compliant, policies and practices on CCTV deployment across all council departments.