Covert surveillance did not breach RIPA

Investigatory Powers Tribunal rules filming to observe claimed injuries not within Act

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has ruled that the filming of a former police officer mowing his lawn while on a disability allowance did not breach the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The former sergeant asked the Tribunal to rule against the police force under RIPA, but the Tribunal held that it had no jurisdiction to do so as the filming was not the kind of surveillance that RIPA governs.

The police had instructed a firm of private detectives to observe the man to see if his behaviour was inconsistent with injuries he had claimed to have suffered as the result of a trip in a police station. They produced nine minutes of footage showing him mowing the lawn and driving his car.

The ex-officer claimed that this campaign of directed surveillance fell within RIPA, but the Tribunal rejected this contention, noting that RIPA did not apply to all public authorities, and it would make no sense for the police’s pursuit of its economic interests to be conducted on a different legal footing than, for example, the Treasury.

The surveillance in this case was not “directed surveillance” within RIPA but merely an instance of the police carrying out “‘ordinary functions’ common to all public authorities, such as employment (or its nearest equivalent in the case of the police) and entering into contracts to receive or supply other services”. Surveillance was only to be considered “direct surveillance” within RIPA if it related to “the discharge of the public authority’s particular public or ‘core functions’ specific to it.”

It would therefore seem that covert surveillance by a private individual, even of the sort experienced by the Claimant in Howlett v Holding (No 4), would not fall within RIPA. The Tribunal did, however, decline to express a view as to whether the surveillance might be a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.