Sean Clark stated it had been considered best practice to bring this report to committee on a regular basis due to there being some concerns around the misuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in the past. The report had set out the amount of activity there was under RIPA and National Anti-Fraud Network (NAFN). There were no RIPA surveillance authorisations processed during this period and six requests made to the NAFN. Sean Clark stated that reporting no RIPA surveillance was just as important and clarified that low numbers of RIPA authorisations were a result of the Council utilising other forms of investigation. Members were reminded that outcomes from the RIPA surveillance authorisations could not be summarised in detail to members.
Councillor Ononaji stated that the report was not very detailed and questioned whether the low numbers had indicated no activities in the borough or whether the department were doing enough. David Kleinberg stated the Council had a wide range of powers available and some of those, such as RIPA, were intrusive. For example in trading standards it may be taking action against a consumer crime using a separate power rather than an intrusive option. Some cases would continue by simply using a different route rather than the intrusive powers of RIPA. David Kleinberg reassured members that the team were very busy and based on how a particular case was approached to make sure it was the least intrusive way of impacting members of the public.
Councillor Ononaji stated that committee members should be entitled to more information to which David Kleinberg stated this was due to data protection requirements and to ensure that an on-going investigations would not be compromised as a result of any disclosure of information. This would depend on the conclusion of investigations and how long these may take and also those being investigated having the right to privacy. That the Council followed the law and this was an ultimate intrusive power and used sparingly. Sean Clark stated that these requests were not just signed off by himself, they would need to go in front of the courts to be signed off, that regular audits would be undertaken by the Investigatory Powers Commissioners Officer and results of those audits would be reported back to this committee.
Councillor Ralph questioned what the criteria was for this action to be undertaken to which David Kleinberg stated there needed to have been a serious crime in law, defined as any offence where the starting point for this custody had been six months or more – fraud, theft, corruption. That there was a very high threshold which must be met and would be seen as an investigation phase. Sean Clark clarified also that there would be review dates to ensure that it was actually doing what it said it was going to do and not being too intrusive for example for in cases affecting minors.
Councillor Snell questioned whether in the different types of fraud and trading standards were other law enforcement agencies referred to such as Border Force. David Kleinberg stated they were collaborative, joint working and shared intelligence as those committing offences tended to be targeting areas dealt with by multiple agencies with multiple victims. There would be a joint enterprise between the Council and other agencies, such as Essex Police, Border Force. At the two ports in the borough there were Council staff working side by side with Border force.
Councillor Snell questioned whether the Council had the final say as to whether the RIPA request would be used to which David Kleinberg stated that if the Council had a statutory duty to investigate then it would be the Council’s decision. If it was a Border Force responsibility the onus would be on them to approve the activity. This would fall down to who would be responsible for the investigation rather than surveillance action.
That the statistical information relating to the use of RIPA for the period April 2021 to September 2021 were noted.