It’s surveillance Jim, but not as we know it

Behind the curve on this one by some way, but hey ho, there you go. Last week my eye was caught by the some posts on councils using citizens (children, in fact) to ‘spy’ on other citizens.

Ambush Predator asks an excellent question :

A spokesman for the council said: ‘Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and its project partner Serco do not conduct any surveillance of residents in enforcement of environmental crimes, and neither do the community champions that have volunteered.’

Why have you dished out hand-held computers with camera capability then?

A very good question, and one which I am happy to answer in lieu of the quoted spokesweasel.

I think what Mr Weasel meant to say was “… do not do anything which would constitute ‘directed’ or ‘intrusive’ surveillance’ under Section 26 of the Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and therefore require an authorisation under Section 28.”

26(2) contains the relevant definition :

(2) Subject to subsection (6), surveillance is directed for the purposes of this Part if it is covert but not intrusive and is undertaken—

(a) for the purposes of a specific investigation or a specific operation;

(b) in such a manner as is likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person (whether or not one specifically identified for the purposes of the investigation or operation); and

(c) otherwise than by way of an immediate response to events or circumstances the nature of which is such that it would not be reasonably practicable for an authorisation under this Part to be sought for the carrying out of the surveillance.

After all, if one of WHBCs little helpers spots someone putting plastic in their wheelie bin (the horror!) that’s certainly an “immediate response to events or circumstance”, and it probably isn’t “reasonably practicable for an authorisation under this Part to be sought for the carrying out of the surveillance.”

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader (assuming one happens along) to spot the other loopholes possibly being exploited here.

I hope I’m just overly cynical and WHBC didn’t really just try to use children,some of whom – according the original article referenced by Ambush Predator – are below the age of legal responsibility (and presumably WHBC won’t be in loco parentis of when they are out snapping) to try and dodge their obligations under RIPA, because that would make the whole thing even more disgusting than the whole brainwashing them to be agents of the state thing.

And that’s really quite high up on the scale of disgusting.

But we have to assume that if they’re sending people out to take photos, they must at least have read RIPA, right ?

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