What does ‘surveillance’ mean?

July 29th, 2013 by Robin Hopkins

A five-member panel of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal last week issued its decision in Re: a Complaint of Surveillance (case no: IPT/A1/2013). The decision was on a preliminary point arising from this sort of factual scenario: suppose you voluntarily participate in an interview with policing/investigatory authorities but, unbeknownst to you, the investigators use a device to record that interview? Would this act of recording constitute ‘surveillance’ for the purposes of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), such that it requires authorisation (assuming it to be ‘directed’) was required? Would it engage your rights under Article 8 ECHR?

There are arguments both ways. As the IPT observed, “the wording in Part II [of RIPA] presents some difficulties for the reasonable reader”. The official guidance publications answer the above questions differently: the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners answers ‘yes’, but the Home Office answers ‘no’.

The IPT has agreed with the Home Office’s interpretation.

By s. 48(2) RIPA, Parliament has chosen not to define ‘surveillance’ as such, but to deem that surveillance shall be construed so as to include certain activities. Those deeming examples extend or amplify the ordinary meaning of ‘surveillance’, the essence of which is that person who is subject to surveillance is intended to remain unaware of those means and does not engage with the person secretly gathering the intelligence. In the IPT’s view, “the notion of a ‘covert interview’ requiring RIPA authorisation is one that is difficult to grasp. An interview is by its very nature an overt intelligence gathering operation in which the interviewee actively participates, even if only to the extent of refusing to answer questions”. Such interviews cannot constitute ‘surveillance’ and Article 8 rights are not engaged here.

It follows that the recording of the interview is not observing or listening to “in the course of surveillance” within the meaning of s. 48(2)(b) of RIPA, and no authorisation is required. The making of the recording only involves the recording process itself. It does not involve a separate act of “observing or listening to” the person being interviewed.

The IPT expressly rejected the contention that, regardless of the purpose, nature or circumstances of the intelligence-gathering activities in question, every act of “observing or listening to persons”, their conversations or communications is automatically treated as surveillance.

Robin Hopkins (@hopkinsrobin)

Prism and Tempora: Privacy International commences legal action

July 10th, 2013 by Robin Hopkins

Panopticon has reported in recent weeks that, following the Edward Snowden/Prism disclosures, Liberty has brought legal proceedings against the UK’s security bodies. This week, Privacy International has announced that it too is bringing a claim in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – concerning both the Prism and Tempora programmes. It summarises its claim in these terms:

“Firstly, for the failure to have a publicly accessible legal framework in which communications data of those located in the UK is accessed after obtained and passed on by the US National Security Agency through the Prism programme.  Secondly, for the indiscriminate interception and storing of huge amounts of data via tapping undersea fibre optic cables through the Tempora programme.”

Legal complaints on Prism-related transfers have been made elsewhere on data protection grounds also. A group of students who are members of a group called Europe vs. Facebook have filed complaints to the data protection authorities in Ireland (against Facebook and Apple), Luxembourg (against Skype and Microsoft) and Germany (against Yahoo).

European authorities have expressed concerns on these issues in their own right. For example, the Vice President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, has written to the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, about the Tempora programme, and has directed similar concerns at the US (including in a piece in the New York Times). The European Parliament has also announced that a panel of its Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will be convened to investigate the Prism-related surveillance of EU citizens. It says the panel will report by the end of 2013.

In terms of push-back within the US, it has been reported that Texas has introduced a bill strengthening the requirements for warrants to be obtained before any emails (as opposed to merely unread ones) can be disclosed to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Further complaints, litigation and potential legal challenges will doubtless arise concerning Prism, Tempora and the like.

Robin Hopkins

RIPA: hacked voicemails and undercover officers

June 28th, 2013 by Robin Hopkins

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) has featured prominently in the news in recent weeks, both as regards undercover police officers/“covert human intelligence sources” and as regards the phone-hacking scandal.

Hacked voicemails

This morning, the Court of Appeal gave judgment in Edmonson, Weatherup, Brooks, Coulson & Kuttner v R [2013] EWCA Crim 1026. As is well known, the appellants face charges arising out of the News of the World phone-hacking controversy – specifically, conspiring unlawfully to intercept communications in the course of their transmission without lawful authority contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.

The communications in question are voicemails. Under section 1(1)(b) of RIPA, it is an offence intentionally to intercept, without lawful authority, any communication in the course of its transmission by means of a public telecommunications system (my emphasis). The central provision is section 2(7) of RIPA:

“(7) For the purposes of this section the times while a communication is being transmitted by means of a telecommunication system shall be taken to include any time when the system by means of which the communication is being, or has been, transmitted is used for storing it in a manner that enables the intended recipient to collect it or otherwise to have access to it.”

The appellants applied to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that the words “in the course of transmission” in section 1(1) of RIPA do not extend to voicemail messages once they have been listened to (by the intended recipient, that is, rather than by any alleged phone-hacker). They argued that the ordinary meaning of “transmission” is conveyance from one person or place to another and that section 2(7) is intended to extend the concept of “transmission” only so as to cover periods of transient storage that arising through modern phone and email usage, and when the intended recipient is not immediately available. Thus, once the message has been listened to, it can no longer be “in the course of transmission”.

The point had previously been decided against the appellant. The Court of Appeal (the Lord Chief Justice, Lloyd Jones LJ, Openshaw J) took a similar view. While it accepted that the application of section 2(7) may differ as between, for example, voicemails and emails, “there is nothing in the language of the statute to indicate that section 2(7) should be read in such a limited way” (as the appellants had contended) (paragraph 23). Further, the words “has been transmitted” in section 2(7) “make entirely clear that the course of transmission may continue notwithstanding that the voicemail message has already been received and read by the intended recipient” (paragraph 26).

The same conclusion was reached by focusing on the mischief which section 2(7) is intended to remedy, “namely unauthorized access to communications, whether oral or text, whilst they remain on the system by which they were transmitted. As the prosecution submits, unlawful access and intrusion is not somehow less objectionable because the message has been read or listened to by the intended recipient before the unauthorized access takes place” (paragraph 28, quoting an earlier judgment in this matter from Fulford LJ).

The Court accepted that section 2(7) went further than the prohibitions imposed by Directive 97/66/EC concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector (which RIPA sought to implement) and its successor, Directive 2002/58/EC concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (which postdates RIPA).  The Court found, however, that the Directives imposed minimum harmonisation; Parliament was entitled to go further and to set higher standards for the protection of privacy of electronic communications, provided that those additional obligations are compatible with EU law (paragraph 42).

Both the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990 also raised their heads. The DPA, for example, contains a public interest defence which is not available under RIPA. It was argued that this risked creation parallel offences without parallel defences, violating the principle of legal certainty. This submission too was rejected (paragraphs 44-45).

The cases will now proceed to trial, apparently to commence in September.

Undercover officers

As regards the activities of undercover police officers, the major issue this week has concerned the alleged smearing of the family and friends of Stephen Lawrence: see for example The Guardian’s Q&A session with undercover-officer-turned-whistleblower Peter Francis.

The other major ongoing case regarding a former undercover officer concerns Mark Kennedy, who (together with others) infiltrated political and environmental activists over a period of years. Claims were commenced in the High Court, with part of the conduct complained of involving ensuing sexual relations between activists/their partners and undercover officers.

Earlier this year, J and others v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2013] EWHC 32 (QB) saw part of the claims struck out. The Court held that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal had exclusive jurisdiction over the claims under the Human Rights Act 1998; it struck out these parts accordingly. It observed that conduct breaching Article 3 (inhuman and degrading treatment) – which included the claims relating to sexual activity – could not be authorised under RIPA, but conduct breaching Article 8 (privacy) could be authorised. Sexual activity with undercover officers did not necessarily engage Article 3.

Those parts of the claims which did not concern the Human Rights Act 1998 (actions at common law and for alleged breaches of statutory duties) were not exclusively within the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s jurisdiction and were thus not struck out as an abuse of process, notwithstanding the police’s difficulties in presenting its case due to the ‘neither confirm nor deny’ approach to covert sources.

Unlike with the phone-hacking cases, it is not clear when this case will resume before the Court/Tribunal.

Robin Hopkins

Surveillance and RIPA: Radio 4 discussion

June 12th, 2013 by Ben Hooper

I took part in what will hopefully prove to be an interesting discussion of surveillance and RIPA in an episode of Clive Anderson’s “Unreliable Evidence” that will be broadcast at 8pm today on Radio 4 (and available on the iplayer thereafter). The show was recorded prior to the recent leaks regarding US surveillance activities, and so focuses on the UK perspective. The other panel members were Eric Metcalfe (former director of human rights policy at Justice, now a barrister at Monckton Chambers) and solicitor Simon McKay.

Ben Hooper

Surveillance: RIPA and the Communications Data Bill

May 29th, 2013 by Robin Hopkins

The Communications Data Bill, shelved amid political heavy weather, is back on the agenda in the wake of last week’s Woolwich murder. Today for example, Conservative MP and former policing minister Nick Herbert wrote an article in The Times in support of the Bill and responding to those who have called it a ‘snooper’s charter’.

One of the more detailed critiques of Mr Herbert’s article came from Big Brother Watch. Part of its argument was that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) already provides for necessary surveillance – indeed, RIPA goes further because, unlike the Communications Data Bill, it allows for the actual content of communications to be intercepted in appropriate circumstances

Big Brother Watch’s article noted, however, problems with the use of intercept evidence in criminal trials. As regards the admissibility of surveillance resulting in the recording of conversations however, a very recent Court of Appeal judgment brings good news.

Turner v R [2013] EWCA Crim 642 concerned an appeal against a murder conviction. The evidence included extracts from some 300 hours’ worth of conversations which had been recorded as part of an intrusive surveillance operation authorised under RIPA.

The single ground of appeal against conviction arose from the rejection by Dobbs J of the submission that the indictment should be stayed as an abuse of process arising from the use of intrusive covert surveillance in the appellant’s home; alternatively, that the evidence derived from that surveillance was unfairly admitted in evidence, when it should have been excluded under s.78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The Court of Appeal dismissed these arguments. It had particular regard to the importance of respecting legal professional privilege when gathering evidence through covert means.

The Lord Chief Jusitce concluded that (paragraph 28):

“The surveillance was lawful. The relevant disclosure took place. The record of incriminating conversations was unchallenged. We understand that there may be extreme cases in which the prosecuting authorities (using the words in a comprehensive way) may interfere so significantly with the legal privilege of a defendant that the very integrity of the administration of justice may be undermined. That, however, did not happen here. Lawful covert surveillance produced damaging evidence against all three defendants. The process worked lawfully: any flaws were minor and short, and inconsequential”.

As to admissibility, he said this (paragraph 30):

“The only unfairness was that the appellant chose to say the things that he did because he did not realise that they were being recorded. The object of covert surveillance of the kind deployed in this case was to discover the truth, and, the evidence of what the appellant said about the death of the deceased was put before the jury while anything containing even a whisper of conversations protected by legal privilege was excluded. That was not unfair.”

Those arguing that RIPA is a fit-for-purpose surveillance tool will no doubt find support in this judgment.

Robin Hopkins

Important developments in surveillance law: RIPA and CCTV

September 17th, 2012 by Robin Hopkins

Important changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 come into force from 1 November 2012, thanks to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2012, passed last week. This is an extremely important development for local authorities.

Local authorities are empowered under RIPA to use three surveillance techniques: directed surveillance, the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) and accessing communications data. Early in its term, the Coalition government indicated that it would impose additional safeguards on local authorities’ use of such powers, responding in part to concerns aired by Big Brother Watch and others (see our post here and the recent ‘Grim RIPA’ report here). Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 Act amended RIPA so as to require local authorities to obtain the approval of a magistrate for any authorisation for the use of a covert investigatory technique.

The procedure for obtaining judicial approval may be much like that involved in obtaining search warrants. It remains to be seen how magistrates scrutinise the reasoning and evidence supporting an authorisation so as to ensure that the conditions laid down by RIPA – in particular, necessity and proportionality – are satisfied. Ibrahim Hasan has discussed the changes in his Local Government Lawyer piece here.

Last week also saw a second important announcement on surveillance. The government has announced that it is busy with preparatory work on a new CCTV code of practice, with the aim of consulting on the draft code over the autumn and bringing the new one into force in April 2013. Authorities specified in s. 33(5) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 have a duty to have regard to the code, and other system operators will be encouraged to adopt it on a voluntary basis.

The Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne MP, told the House of Commons last week that the government is “committed to ensuring that any deployment in public places of surveillance cameras, including close circuit television (CCTV) and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), is appropriate, proportionate, transparent and effective in meeting its stated purpose”.

Oversight of – and independent recommendations about – the new code will fall to Andrew Rennison, who will remain in post as both surveillance camera commissioner and forensic science regulator until February 2014.

If one adds the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, also passed last week (see my post here), this is clearly a time of great flux in terms of the information law landscape for local authorities in particular.

Robin Hopkins

Launch of Information Law Reports

July 19th, 2011 by Rachel Kamm

 The Information Law Reports launched on 14 July 2011, with the following announcement on 11KBW’s website:

Leading chambers 11KBW and legal publisher Justis Publishing are collaborating in a first for both organisations: the creation of a new series of law reports available both in bound volumes from next week and on the established Justis platform from this morning.

Information law is ever more important, seeking to balance the “right to know” and the “right to be left alone” in an age of massive databases and global information flows. We all want to protect our own privacy; but we also want to understand how public authorities make decisions and spend our money. This new series will help professionals grapple with these issues.

Timothy Pitt-Payne QC, a barrister at 11KBW and one of the editors of the new reports, said: “There is a growing case-law, generated by the specialist Information Rights Tribunal and the higher courts. Navigating this material and quickly identifying the most important recent developments is increasingly challenging. The Information Law Reports seek to meet this need, bringing together all the most important cases in a single source. 11KBW are delighted to be working with Justis on this much-needed project.

Masoud Gerami, Managing Director of Justis Publishing, said: “We have had a number of significant milestones in our 25-year history, mostly associated with innovation and developments which have changed legal information dissemination for the better. I am delighted that another milestone has been added to our list of achievements by producing the new series of Information Law Reports in association with 11KBW, the leaders in this increasingly important field. I believe that the complementary nature of the expertise from the partners in this project is the ideal requirement for any successful product or service, and we look forward to a continued relationship with 11KBW.”

He added: “This is also the first time that Justis Publishing has produced a product in hard copy, and we are very excited about the possibilities that the combination of hard copy and online versions will present.

For further information, please call +44 (0)20 7267 8989 or email press@justis.com.

LANDMARK IPT DECISION ON LOCAL AUTHORITY’S USE OF RIPA

August 2nd, 2010 by Robin Hopkins

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal today issued its decision in the first substantive public case on the use of surveillance powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Poole Borough Council suspected that Jenny Paton and her family may have lied about living in the catchment area of a sought-after primary school in Dorset. It therefore monitored their activity for around 3 weeks in 2008. This included covertly monitoring the movements of family members and their car, as well as examining the contents of their rubbish.

The IPT found that:

(1) investigating a potentially fraudulent school application was not a proper purpose in the sense required by RIPA;
(2) in these circumstances, the Council’s actions were in any event disproportionate, in that they were not necessary to achieve that aim, and
(3) the Council’s actions had breached the family’s rights under Article 8 of the ECHR.

Poole Borough Council has accepted the ruling and apologised to Ms Paton and her family.

SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT ON THE INVESTIGATORY POWERS TRIBUNAL

December 11th, 2009 by Anya Proops

This week the Supreme Court handed down an important judgment on the jurisdictional scope of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT): R (on the application of A) v B [2009] UKSC 12. The case involved a former spy, ‘A’, who wished to publish a manuscript relating to the successes, failures and recruiting techniques of MI5. MI5 had refused to authorise the publication of certain elements of the manuscript under the Official Secrets Act 1989. A subsequently brought a claim for judicial review in the administrative court challenging MI5’s decision. The claim was advanced in particular on the basis that MI5’s refusal breached A‘s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The claim was resisted on the basis that, under s. 65 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), it was the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) which had exclusive jurisdiction to hear any challenge made against MI5’s decision, irrespective of whether or not that challenge was made under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). A’s claim for judicial review was allowed at first instance. In summary, Collins J held that the High Court exercised jurisdiction in respect of the claim in parallel with the IPT ([2008] 4 All ER 511). Collins J’s judgment was subsequently overturned by a majority of the Court of Appeal ([2009] 3 WLR 717). The Supreme Court has now unanimously upheld the Court of Appeal’s majority judgment. In essence, the Supreme Court held that:

 

  • the wording of s. 65 RIPA should be construed broadly so as to ensure that, where decisions of this nature were in issue, they should be heard by the IPT, even if they embraced challenges brought under the HRA;

 

  • the fact that s. 65 operated to oust the jurisdiction which the ordinary courts would otherwise have to hear a human rights challenge was not objectionable on constitutional grounds (i.e. it did not constitute an unlawful ouster). In particular, the ouster of jurisdiction embodied in s. 65 was lawful because: (a) it had been provided for in clear terms under the relevant legislation; and (b) it did not operate to prevent judicial scrutiny of the particular decision but instead merely ensured that that scrutiny was conducted by the IPT;

 

  • the mere fact that the IPT procedures were more secretive than those which would apply in the ordinary courts did not mean that there would be any breach of A’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR. The use of such procedures could be justified in view of the fact that determination of A’s claim would entail consideration of information which raised issues of national security. (It was noted in the judgment that an application to the ECtHR is currently pending on the question of whether certain of the IPT rules breach various articles of the Convention, including articles 6, 8 and 10).

 

The judgment is likely to be seen as controversial in certain quarters, not least because the secretive nature of the IPT process is regarded by many as being inherently unjust. 11KBW’s Jason Coppel appeared on behalf of B before the Supreme Court.  See further my post on the recent application of the IPT process to a surveillance procedure applied by a local authority.

NEW TECHNIQUES FOR APPLYING RIPA – OUTCOME OF HOME OFFICE CONSULTATION

November 10th, 2009 by Anya Proops

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) has attracted a considerable amount of negative publicity over the past couple of years. In no small part, this has been due to public outcry in response media reports of local authorities using their powers under RIPA to engage in activities such as monitoring the use of domestic wheelie bins, recording dog-fouling incidents on camera and carrying out surveillance on families suspected of trying to cheat the school catchment system (see further the discussion of the case of Paton v Poole Borough Council below). Concerns have been expressed by members of the public as well as privacy campaigners that such actions on the part of local authorities constitute abuses of their powers both because the surveillance powers of the state should not be used for trivial purposes and because there has been a failure on the part of the authority to achieve a proper balance between the rights of the state to identify civil and criminal wrongdoing and the individual’s right to have his or her privacy respected. Those concerns resulted in the Home Office commencing a consultation in April 2009 on proposals to introduce new RIPA techniques which would purportedly help ensure that RIPA would only be used when it was necessary and proportionate. Last week, the Home Office published a summary of the responses to those proposals along with an announcement. In the announcement, the view expressed by the Minister for State Security, Counter-Terrorism and Policing, David Hanson, was that the responses to the consultation had been broadly positive. He said that, subject to certain minor amendments, he would now take steps to introduce the proposals as secondary legislation. The announcement suggests that the new legislation will aim to:

  • clarify the test of necessity and proportionality so techniques will not be used for trivial purposes such as investigating dog fouling or people putting bins out a day early
  • raise the rank of the authorising officer for RIPA techniques in local authorities to senior executive at a minimum of ‘Director’ level
  • give elected councillors a role in overseeing the way local authorities use covert
    investigatory techniques
  • require constituents’ communications with MPs on constituency business to be
    treated as confidential information, and therefore subject to authorisation by a
    higher rank of officer
  • treat covert surveillance of legal consultations as ‘intrusive’ rather than ‘directed’
    surveillance, meaning that it can only be carried out by a very limited number of
    public authorities, primarily the police and intelligence agencies, and only with
    independent approval
  • clarify how provisions currently in the Policing and Crime Bill will reduce
    bureaucracy relating to RIPA in police collaborative units comprising two or
    more forces

It also appears that, following a proposal by the Local Government Association, local authorities will need to appoint a single official to be responsible for ensuring that all authorising officers are of an appropriate standard. Notably, the Home Office rejected suggestions that a more radical approach should be adopted, namely removing local authorities from the scope of RIPA altogether.

Coincidentally, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, chaired by its President, Mummery LJ, was itself hearing a complaint last week brought under s. 65 RIPA that a particular local authority had unlawfully exercised its surveillance powers under RIPA. In Paton v Poole Borough Council, which was heard on 5 and 6 November, the IPT was called upon to decide whether the Poole BC had acted unlawfully under RIPA when it conducted directed surveillance of Ms Paton and her family. The surveillance had been conducted in circumstances where the council suspected that Ms Poole may have been dishonestly trying to abuse the school catchment system by giving a false address when applying for a place for her child at a local school. It was accepted by the council before the IPT that, in fact, its suspicions about Ms Paton had proved to be unfounded. However, the council nonetheless sought to maintain the position before the IPT that the surveillance constituted a necessary, proportionate and, hence, lawful exercise of its powers under RIPA. In advancing this case, it was argued on behalf of the council that there existed no simple means of uncovering fraudulent abuses of the school catchment system that did not involve any invasion of privacy rights. The council was represented by 11KBW’s Ben Hooper.