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.
When RIPA applies
RIPA applies to a wide-range of investigations in which private information might be obtained.
Cases in which it applies include:
- public safety
- emergency services
What RIPA does
RIPA's guidelines and codes apply to actions such as:
- intercepting communications, such as the content of telephone calls, emails or letters
- acquiring communications data – the ‘who, when and where’ of communications, such as a telephone billing or subscriber details
- conducting covert surveillance, either in private premises or vehicles (intrusive surveillance) or in public places (directed surveillance)
- the use of covert human intelligence sources, such as informants or undercover officers
- access to electronic data protected by encryption or passwords
Codes of practice and forms
Before a person representing a public authority makes an application under RIPA, they should download and read the appropriate codes of practice.
They can then download the forms needed to make an application.
Changes to local authority use of RIPA
From 1 November 2012 local authorities are required to obtain judicial approval prior to using covert techniques. Local authority authorisations and notices under RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) will only be given effect once an order has been granted by a justice of the peace in England and Wales, a sheriff in Scotland and a district judge (magistrates' court) in Northern Ireland.
Additionally, from this date local authority use of directed surveillance under RIPA will be limited to the investigation of crimes which attract a six month or more custodial sentence, with the exception of offences relating to the underage sale of alcohol and tobacco.
Read the new guidance on local authority use of RIPA.