Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Association of Chief Police Officers



  The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomes the decision of the Home Affairs Select Committee to conduct an Inquiry into "the surveillance society". The Inquiry provides an opportunity to reflect on the extent to which an appropriate balance has been struck between the Article 8 Rights of Citizens on the one hand and the need to suppress criminality on the other.

  The Select Committee has adopted a very broad definition of surveillance. The definition contained within the relevant legislation is narrower, yet it still manages to be a source of great confusion within the law enforcement community, as do several other concepts on which the legislation relies. Taken together, recent and future technological advances, and the experience of several years of the regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, give good reason to take a fresh look at the current range of definitions used within the legal framework for covert investigation.

  Directed and Intrusive surveillance, CCTV, Automated Number Plate Readers (ANPR) and data retrieved from a range of other sources are fundamental to effective law enforcement. Together they have saved many thousands of lives and have prevented thousands of citizens from becoming victims of crime. The benefits are felt across society and help us manage threats ranging from neighbourhood anti-social behaviour to international terrorism.

  Since 2004, ACPO has participated with the Home Office in a joint review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). The review has recommended changes to the primary legislation to remove unnecessary bureaucracy, to redraft the codes of practice and to develop better mechanisms for providing guidance to police and other law enforcement officials. ACPO believes that covert surveillance and intrusive techniques should be properly authorised and accepts that this process will, of necessity, need to be appropriately recorded. But the regime that has developed around RIPA has become unnecessarily bureaucratic and has been characterised by a risk-averse approach that has proved wasteful and has hampered investigations.

  ACPO believes that the supervisory and inspection arrangements around the police use of covert techniques are unnecessarily complex and could be simplified. While the use of surveillance techniques by public authorities is highly regulated, the same is not true of their use by private individuals and businesses. In particular, CCTV systems are operated by many businesses where no clear standards have been established and there has been no registration, inspection, training or enforcement. The quality of much equipment (and the subsequent evidential product) is variable. Sophisticated surveillance equipment is readily accessible to private individuals from a range of open sources. The inquiry provides a welcome opportunity to reassess this, although ACPO would not encourage the development of a regulatory regime that would be costly or which would discourage use of private CCTV.

  In Summary, ACPO would welcome:

    —    An acknowledgment of the fundamental value of surveillance, in its broadest sense, to crime investigation and reduction.

    —    A reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy.

    —    A rebalancing of control between the highly regulated enforcement sector and other users of surveillance.


  The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an independent, professionally led, strategic body. In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and the Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and co-ordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. ACPO's 341 members are police officers of Assistant Chief Constable rank (Commanders in the Metropolitan and City of London Police) and above and senior police staff managers in the 44 forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and other forces such as the British Transport Police and States of Jersey Police.


  ACPO welcomes the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into "a surveillance society". The Inquiry has implications for a broad range of ACPO work portfolios and working groups. This initial submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee is intended to simply highlight several broad areas that ACPO feels might benefit from scrutiny as part of this Inquiry. These are:

    —    definitions;

    —    CCTV;

    —    data retrieval and other techniques;

    —    the regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000;

    —    the regulatory regime; and

    —    the non-regulated use of surveillance.


  The Home Affairs Select Committee has adopted a very broad interpretation of "surveillance"'. It extends beyond the conventional concept of directed surveillance which is defined within RIPA. The Review of RIPA (see below) found that even this limited concept was open to confusion and misinterpretation. The risk of misinterpretation grows as the scope of what we mean by "surveillance" is broadened. Technological advances also broaden the possibilities available to law enforcement agencies and others. Taken together, these considerations suggest that the time is right for a review of these definitions and an improvement in our ability to articulate what we mean by each term.

  RIPA has little to say about the scope of surveillance: it would be helpful to articulate a differentiation between "watching" and "seeing", for example. Similarly, there is a distinction between "live surveillance" and the acquisition of "historic" information. A debate would be welcome on when data becomes "historic"—what if it is retrieved from a system that recorded it a matter of seconds ago? Practitioners also struggle with the distinction between visual surveillance and electronic surveillance, and with the concept of "private information"—especially in public places. Technologies exist today that were scarcely envisaged when RIPA was enacted. They provide great opportunities to criminals and the law enforcement community should be equipped with a framework to use them appropriately, too.


  It is often suggested that there are 4.2 million surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom. This figure is an estimate, based on the number of cameras found on Putney High Street, London and then extrapolated to provide a figure for the United Kingdom as a whole. That was produced in 2002. The results of this study should be treated with caution. The same study found that 84% of surveillance cameras are operated by private businesses in shops, pubs, clubs and other commercial premises. The use of CCTV cameras in these "private places" is common practice in most western societies and in this respect, the United Kingdom differs little from many other countries in terms of the number or use of cameras involved.

  The remaining 16% of surveillance cameras were identified as being located in those areas which can be described as "public space" and were operated by local authorities and other public agencies in places such as open streets, transport systems, hospitals and schools. It is the regular surveillance of public streets by local authority controlled cameras that sets the United Kingdom apart from many other countries in terms of CCTV surveillance. There is little use of street cameras in many European or North American countries, although this is beginning to change as governments begin to recognise the effectiveness of CCTV in the investigation of serious crime and terrorism. It is estimated that there are 30,000 street cameras in England and Wales, the majority operated by local authorities.

  The availability of CCTV images greatly assists in the investigation of crime and disorder. Although the crime reduction capability of CCTV is sometimes disputed, the contribution to crime investigation is significant and the recovery of available CCTV evidence is one of the first actions taken during a major investigation. The contribution of CCTV images to crime investigation is not recorded in a systematic manner; it is likely to equal that of fingerprints and DNA in terms of its overall contribution to the detection of crime.

    —    ACPO identifies a number of recent terrorist investigations where CCTV images have played a substantial and significant part two recent terrorist trials, each with national prominence, which simply would not have taken place had it not been for the availability of CCTV evidence.

    —    A case study from Merseyside Police reveals the use of ANPR and CCTV systems in connection with a specific operation, currently operated by Merseyside Police in the Liverpool and Wirral local authority areas. This operation, which is ongoing, uses the systems to locate and then track suspicious vehicles until dedicated police teams can stop them. To date, this policing activity alone has resulted in over 200 arrests and the seizure of 150 stolen vehicles.

    —    At a neighbourhood level, the following case is typical. In October 2006 a CCTV operator in Warrington became suspicious about the behaviour of youths walking through the town centre. For 40 minutes the operator tracked the youths because he felt they were "looking for trouble". One of the youths suddenly armed himself with a large piece of wood and began a totally unprovoked attack on a young man in the street. The other youths quickly joined in. The CCTV operator used the police radio to summon help. Police arrived and two offenders were arrested near the scene. The third escaped but was later arrested after his CCTV image was published in the local press. The offenders were jailed for an offence of wounding with intent.

  ACPO has produced a clear position paper highlighting the need for a strategy for the further development of CCTV in the United Kingdom. This strategy identifies the need for:

    —    clear standards;

    —    guidelines on registration, inspection and enforcement;

    —    training;

    —    the police use of CCTV;

    —    storage /volume/archiving/retention issues;

    —    emerging technologies, changing threats, new and changing priorities; and

    —    partnership working.

  The strategy has now been completed and is awaiting publication following Ministerial approval.


  The value of broader "surveillance" to policing extends far beyond CCTV. The acquisition, analysis and evidential use of data produced and stored in connection with everyday modern technologies is fundamental to crime investigation. The following examples from the Police Service of Northern Ireland are typical:

    —    The investigation into the Omagh bombing in which 29 people were murdered. Tracking the movements of mobile phones as they made or received calls using historic data was an essential part of this investigation.

    —    The conviction in Northern Ireland of Louis Maguire in April 2007 for murder relied heavily on evidence gathered by sensitive and intrusive techniques authorised under RIPA. Without this ability, there would have been insufficient evidence to convict Maguire and a dangerous criminal would still be at large.

    —    In March 2007, colleagues from the Police Service of Northern Ireland successfully traced the mobile telephone of a seventeen year old girl who had left messages threatening suicide. She was discovered in a hotel bedroom having taken an overdose and was saved by police. Her life was only saved because public authorities were in a position to use data obtained under RIPA.

  Without the ability to make lawful and effective use of these techniques, the effectiveness of the police service would be massively compromised.


  RIPA was enacted in 2000 to provide the framework which would enable law enforcement bodies to interfere with individual Article 8 Rights when there was good reason to do so. It gradually became a source of more and more complaint to Ministers, Members of Parliament and senior police officers. Officers found the legislation, or at least the way in which it had been interpreted, to be a source of unnecessary bureaucracy.

  Responding to these concerns, a review of the legislation was launched in 2004. The Review explored a range of intrusive techniques, including directed surveillance, the acquisition of communications data, intrusive surveillance and covert human intelligence sources.

  The Review found that the legislation had several ambiguities and deficiencies, although many of the problems that had been identified were linked to the way it had been implemented. There was diverse interpretation and application of the law and the training provided within the law enforcement community had been piecemeal. Several sources of guidance had emerged—and sadly these would regularly contradict each other.

  In particular, the Review identified a proliferation of unnecessary bureaucracy which was borne of a generally "risk averse" approach. This risk aversion, and continues to mean to this day, that there is little in the way of case law to guide investigators and Senior Investigating Officers—as the prevailing "safety-first" mindset offers little prospect of a challenge in the courtroom.

  ACPO continues to work with the Home Office to develop a single source of advice and a reliable doctrine or guidance document for use by investigators.

  ACPO urges the Home Affairs Select Committee to consider the case for making amendments to RIPA: amendments which acknowledge the need for appropriate levels of recording, but which would encourage the reduction in the inappropriate bureaucratic burden that has developed since RIPA was enacted.


  ACPO acknowledges the need for independent scrutiny of the police use of covert techniques, and welcomes the likely benefit in terms of public confidence. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners supervises some of the police surveillance referred to above. But police forces are also subject of inspection by the Information Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. These supervisory arrangements sit alongside the established inspectorate function for policing—HMIC. The Commissioners' officers work entirely independently of each other and adopt different methodologies, have different styles and do not co-ordinate their inspection activities.

  Several police forces report bidding farewell to one inspection team a matter of days before welcoming a team from a different inspectorate's office. ACPO believes that bureaucracy could be reduced and greater cohesion and efficiency achieved by exploring the establishment of a single Commissioner for activities governed by RIPA.


  Whilst the use of surveillance techniques by the police and other public authorities is very tightly regulated, the same is not true of other users of surveillance. Advanced surveillance devices are readily accessible on the open market and prosecutions for their misuse are very unusual.

  Police colleagues are required to have a high level of authority before accumulating data that will provide a detailed picture of a person that will provide comprehensive information about their private lives—whereas other organisations, including large commercial organisations appear able to do so with impunity.

  The Home Affairs Select Committee may well conclude that this is an appropriate moment to recommend a rebalancing of the regulatory framework in circumstances that would reduce the burden of inappropriate bureaucracy on public authorities and put controls in place on other, currently unregulated, users of `surveillance'. It would be, however, disadvantageous to introduce a regulatory regime that is costly and which discourages the use of private CCTV.

April 2007

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 8 June 2008