The Strategic Lead for Information Management
introduced the report and stated that it was formed of three parts.
He explained that the first part of the report outlined RIPA
activity for the 2020/21 year, and point 3.11 of the agenda
included how many requests had been received. He stated that
numbers of RIPA requests had decreased in 2020/21, which showed
that Thurrock were using other means of investigation, such as
collaboration with the police and overt surveillance. He described
how the second part of the report, at point 3.2 of the agenda, gave
Members a summary of the recent RIPA inspection. He commented that
the inspection had been positive, with inspectors commenting that
Thurrock took RIPA powers seriously, ethically, and had remained
compliant. He summarised and stated that the third part of the
report, outlined on page 18 of the agenda, summarised
Thurrock’s new RIPA policy based on findings from the
Councillor Collins opened the debated and questioned the fifth paragraph on page 36, which described RIPA requests for communications data, and asked if RIPA covered offences by gangs, as well as ‘white collar’ crime. The Strategic Lead for Information Management responded that point 3.1.3 on page 16 of the report outlined RIPA requests for communications data, and these types of requests could include phone owner’s data. The Assistant Director of Counter-Fraud and Investigations added that only RIPA requests for communications data could only be allowed for serious crime, such as organised crime, and for specific offences. The Strategic Lead for Information Management added that for a RIPA communications request to be allowed, the crime had to carry a custodial sentence of over twelve months, compared to standard RIPA offences that only required a custodial sentence of over six months.
Councillor Ononaji asked how the Council monitored and enforced RIPA powers. The Strategic Lead for Information Management replied that any RIPA requests received had to go be authorised by one of four authorised RIPA officers in the Council, and the requests had to pass the necessity test, which ensured the RIPA powers were used as a last resort, and the proportionality test. He explained that if the RIPA request met these criteria, it was then passed to the Senior Responsible Officer for approval before being passed to the courts. He explained that he was the RIPA point of contact, the four authorizing RIPA officers were directors within the council, and the Senior Responsible Officer was the Assistant Director for Law and Governance and Monitoring Officer.
Councillor Collins then highlighted the second paragraph on page 25 of the agenda and queried if RIPA powers could be used to monitor riots or other civil disorder. The Strategic Lead for Information Management responded that RIPA’s main use for cases of fraud or trading standards breaches. The Assistant Director for Counter-Fraud and Investigations added that the word ‘disorder’ had been included in RIPA legislation, but this was mainly used by the police rather than local authorities. The Corporate Director of Resource and Place Delivery added that a RIPA report was brought before the Standards and Audit Committee twice a year, even if no RIPA applications were made, to ensure Members were aware of requests and ensure the Council was not abusing its RIPA powers. He added that although Members could discuss general RIPA powers, they could not discuss specific cases, as the Committee’s remit was to consider governance and approve RIPA policies. He explained that feedback from the Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office (IPCO) had shown that Council’s should include all RIPA requests, including those that had been refused, in Member reports to ensure Members could build up a knowledge of the process and how the Council was using its powers.
The Vice-Chair thanked officers for the level of detail in the report and questioned if RIPA powers could be used for test purchasing. He queried that if these types of RIPA requests were refused, it could have an impact on the investigatory process. The Strategic Lead for Information Management responded that RIPA powers could be used for test purchasing, but that this also fell under the Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) area. He stated that RIPA powers have to be in place before an investigation would be allowed to progress. The Corporate Director of Resource and Place Delivery added that all RIPA authorising officers had to go through detailed training before they could be appointed. He explained that authorising officers could not copy and paste answers, and up until recently, all had to be hand written. He explained that this was because RIPA authorisations were considered in court, and had to stand up to high levels of scrutiny from the defence, to ensure the court case was not put into jeopardy.
1. That the Standards and Audit Committee noted the statistical information relating to the use of RIPA for the period 2020/21.
2. That the Standards and Audit Committee noted the findings of the RIPA inspection.
3. That the Standards and Audit Committee agreed the revised RIPA policy.