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Tell us what you think about covert investigation

16 April 2009

A consultation has been launched into how and when local and other public authorities should use those powers.

The use of such techniques under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (known as RIPA) has been the subject of debate recently after reports emerged that some local authorities were conducting covert investigations into trivial offences.

But many police and counter-terrorism investigations rely on the kinds of investigation techniques regulated by RIPA, and that work is vital to protecting public safety. That work can make a real difference in people’s everyday lives by, for example, identifying rogue traders or fly tippers who dump illegal rubbish on a huge and damaging scale. 

We want to ensure that investigations can continue to be effective in cases like that, while not being misused for less important matters, so the consultation includes revised codes of practice for all who would use the techniques covered by the act.

The new codes would provide greater clarity on when it's appropriate to use RIPA techniques, and make it clear that RIPA should not be used to investigate minor issues.

Key issues

The government welcomes your input on such questions as: 

  • Which public authorities should be able to authorise investigatory techniques like covert surveillance?
  • When and why should these techniques be used?
  • Should only high-ranking local authority employees be able to authorise covert investigation?
  • Should elected councillors also play a role in approving or overseeing any local covert investigations? 

Balancing freedom with safety

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the government has 'absolutely no interest in spying on law-abiding people going about their everyday lives.'

'Our country has a proud tradition of individual freedom,' she said. 'This involves freedom from unjustified interference by the state. But it also includes freedom from interference by those who would do us harm.

'The government is responsible for protecting both types of freedom. In order to do this, we must ensure that the police and other public authorities have the powers they need. But we must also ensure that those powers are not used inappropriately or excessively. I don't want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day or for dog fouling offences.'

What do you think?

We'd like to know what you think about these issues.

Please take a few minutes to download and read the consultation, and if the issues involved are important to you, reply to some of the questions it asks.

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