Covert surveillance

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)

This Act allows us to use non-obvious methods to observe people who are suspected of committing a crime, this is known as covert surveillance. This helps us protect the public and prevent crime. 

The regulations mean that when we use covert surveillance we must make sure that it is in proportion to what is needed and doesn’t intrude unnecessarily on a person’s privacy.

The Office of Surveillance Commissioners is an independent body that makes sure we use the Act correctly. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal follows up complaints into covert surveillance that is not carried out properly. 

Covert Surveillance and when we use it: 

We use covert surveillance help with specific investigations or operations where a crime is suspected and the person or people under surveillance are unaware that they are being watched. 

For example, we may use covert surveillance to: 

  • Observe individual(s) who are suspected of benefit fraud
  • Observe a rogue trader as part of an ongoing investigation
  • For illegal fly-tipping investigations which may also need covert CCTV

We can only use covert surveillance if it is considered reasonable and in proportion to do so. Using RIPA can only be authorised by an Authorising Officer who must be trained in using RIPA.

We are only allowed to use covert surveillance with the approval of a Judge, through the Magistrate’s Court. 

More information

Read our policy for more information about RIPA and how we use covert surveillance.

The Home Office RIPA website has more detailed information on how the Act works.