Review of RIPA Powers – Cambridge City Council

Saturday, August 30th, 2008. 2:23am

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.”

However Cambridge City Council’s Re-Deployable (Mobile) CCTV Cameras Deployment Guidelines (RCCTV) state:

“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.

Richard Taylor

6 comments/updates on “Review of RIPA Powers – Cambridge City Council

  1. Richard Article author

    I have notified the relevant council officer of my intention to speak at the meeting:

    I am writing to you as you are the named officer contact for the Strategy & Resources Scrutiny Committee to be held at 17.00 on Monday the 1st of September.

    I would like to speak as a member of the public at the meeting in relation to item 8 on the agenda (Review of the Council’s use of powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

  2. Richard Article author

    Labour group leader on Cambridge City Council, Lewis Herbert has written to me to say:

    Total news that CCTV was used for this purpose/will get clear answer on

    He also let me know that the :

    Head of Legal has drafted an initial set of wording for me to consider as Labour’s amendment

    Presumably that is Cambridge City Council’s Head of Legal Services. The same person who conducted the review is drafting the Labour amendment to their own review. That strikes me as odd, but I understand council officers are supposed to act impartially and I have no reason to expect them to do otherwise.

    It is good to see the Labour group preparing to comment on the report, and perhaps introduce recommendations as part of their ammendment.

    It is only as a result of the Labour group referring this report for scrutiny that we have the opportunity to debate it in public on Monday.

  3. Richard Article author

    Cllr Tim Ward replied to say:

    It really would be helpful if you could give more notice of complex questions like this.

    My experience, over the years, of reading legislation for myself and trying to work out what it means is that I rarely get it right (where “right” means “what a court would decide”), due no doubt to lack of legal training. So to properly understand the points you are making I would have to take legal advice, which is simply not possible between now and the meeting on Monday – lawyers don’t work weekends, and they don’t work fast enough to do all the work on Monday.

    I replied noting that I had given one of his colleagues about four moths of advance notice and opportunity to consider the points I have raised.

    I also let him know that I did not agree him that he needed legal advice to effectively scrutinise this report and comment on its failings. Suggesting a number of simple observations he could make and actions he could take I wrote:

    Do you agree that the use of CCTV to monitor independent punters on Jesus Green was at the very least a deployment which ought to have been discussed in this review, even if the final decision was that it did not need RIPA authorisation? If so, invite the council leader to note this omission.

    Do you agree that it is a crazy situation to have different codes of practice / guidelines for the different departments of the council deploying CCTV. If the Jesus Green deployment had been using RCCTV it would have certainly required RIPA authorisation according to the council’s own guidelines. If so, try and persuade the leader to recommend consistency across the council.

    Perhaps an RCCTV deployment had been refused, and that’s why another department of the council decided to drill holes in the bowling pavilion and poke cameras through them? We don’t know because while the report states that records of authorisation refusals are made, it does not list them. You could invite the leader to note this omission.

    You have received your constituents opinions on CCTV via many channels, you could represent those views by commenting on if you think the council should have a system for approving the monitoring of individuals using non-covert cameras, including the public CCTV system, irrespective of if a particular individual who happens to be a layer determines that system of authorisation is required by RIPA.

  4. Richard Article author

    Cllr Tim Ward has written to clarify:

    I do not agree you need legal advice to effectively scrutinise this report and comment on its failings.

    That wasn’t my point. My point was that I would need legal advice in order to understand your email. Councillors aren’t expected to read and interpret statutes for themselves any more than they are expected to empty bins for themselves – the council employs professional staff to carry out these functions. In particular, with RIPA as with any other statute the interpretation that counts is not yours, and not mine, but that of the courts. So where there is a difference of interpretation what matters is a proper review of the case law, which I am not in a position to do and which the council’s lawyer almost certainly can’t get done in a single day.

  5. Richard Article author

    While Cllr Nimmo-Smith attends this committee he is not technically a member of it. He is there as an executive councillor / the council leader and the committee members scrutinise his decisions.

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