Somerset Council takes its statutory responsibilities seriously and it will at all times act in accordance with the law and take action that is both necessary and proportionate to the discharge of such statutory responsibilities. As part of its work the Council may need to carry out covert surveillance and other related activities.
The Human Rights Act 1998 requires the council and agencies working on its behalf to respect the rights of individuals to a private and family life, their home and their correspondence. However, this is a qualified and not an absolute right. Accordingly, in certain circumstances the council may interfere with the citizen’s rights mentioned above if such interference is:
(a) in accordance with the law
RIPA provides the mechanism for authorising covert surveillance and the use of a ‘covert human intelligence source’, for example, undercover agents. It also allows for the acquisition and disclosure of communications data and the investigation of electronic data protected by encryption. The main use of RIPA for this council is in relation to covert surveillance. In this context RIPA seeks to ensure that any interference with an individual’s right under Article 8 of the European Convention (Right to respect for Private and Family Life) is necessary and proportionate.
Officers who wish to carry out covert surveillance or other activities authorised by RIPA are required to have undergone suitable training by this council. An application would need to be made to an authorising officer who has also received suitable training and is approved to consider such applications. Every time an application is made the authorising officer will be considering whether the proposed surveillance is necessary, such as is there any other way of getting the information and proportionate such as does the alleged wrong justify the interference with an individual’s rights. Once internal approval has been given judicial approval is necessary, therefore an application must be made to the Magistrates Court for approval by a JP (District Judge or Magistrate) before directed surveillance can be undertaken.
The council has adopted a policy that sets out the council’s position and the procedures that officers are required to follow.