“Unique expertise in the fields of interception and surveillance.”
The statutory framework governing surveillance and interception by the UK police and intelligence services is largely contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”) which, partially in force at present, is intended eventually to replace RIPA in Q1 2018. In regulating surveillance and interception, the legislation attempts to strike a balance between the individual’s right to privacy – as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights – and the requirements of investigators.
The activities covered by the legislation largely fall within four categories:
- Communications and communications data – services providers, such as telephone companies, can lawfully provide public authorities with the content of communications as well as subscriber information, itemised billing and traffic data.
- Surveillance – public authorities can lawfully monitor, observe and listen to people and their conversations with or without a surveillance device.
- The obtaining and use of bulk datasets.
- “Hacking” – the exploitation of computer systems.
In order to undertake such activities lawfully, the public authority must obtain an authorisation or warrant, which may only be granted where the surveillance, interception or other action is deemed necessary and proportionate. This regime is designed to protect the individual’s right to privacy, to the extent that any interference with that right is properly justified under the European Convention on Human Rights.
RIPA also established the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (“IPT”) to provide judicial oversight of interception and surveillance activities. The IPT hears complaints from individuals who believe they have been the victim of unlawful action under RIPA. It also hears claims of potential human rights violations arising from covert surveillance.
BCL has an unparalleled wealth of knowledge in this area, with lead partner Michael Drury being responsible in part for drafting RIPA and its secondary legislation in his former role as Director of Legal Affairs at GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence agency. His partner, Julian Hayes, has substantial experience in advising on the effect in the UK of the Watson litigation before the CJEU. BCL continues to advise clients on the legality of interception and surveillance activities and can provide expert advice in relation to the strategy of dealing with Government requests, obligations to assist or divulge material, disclosure obligations, voluntary disclosure via the “information gateways”, and regarding litigation, including cases before the IPT.