A city council press release slips out under the cover of the Christmas break. Already flagged by Lib Dem Cabinet Member, Mark Wright, on this blog, we’re being told “Council takes action to safeguard privacy”.
Potentially good news then as it’s all about how the city council will be using RIPA (The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) laws – that allows them to collect data on and engage in the covert surveillance of citizens – in the future.
Wright himself tells us, “In future, the council’s privacy-related activities will be scrutinised in public by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee which will act as a proper check on the use of such methods.”
While we’re also informed of some other measures that will be introduced:
Elected councillors to be given a strategic role in scrutinising the way the Council uses data and covert investigatory techniques Review of the Council’s procedures on retention, destruction and storage of data collected by the Council, and the adoption of a code of practice Reviewing the rank of authorising officer for RIPA and whether this request should be raised to a more senior level The Deputy Chief Executive to be the ‘responsible officer ‘ for ensuring all authorising officers are of an appropriate standard and properly trained
This is all well and good but it does raise a question. What on earth have council officers been up to for the last ten years using these laws out the view of elected politicians with no independent scrutiny and zero accountability?
Wright says Overview and Scrutiny will provide a “proper check on the use of such methods”. So is he saying that there has been no such proper checks before?
And if councillors are now being given a strategic role in scrutinising the way the council uses data and covert investigatory techniques who was doing this before? Unelected and unaccountable officers? Nobody at all?
What about “adopting a code of practice”? Were officers using surveillance and collecting data on us with no code of practice? Without a written set of rules and regulations guiding their actions?
How about “reviewing the rank of authorising officer for RIPA”? Are we being told that low-level bureaucrats have been authorising invasive surveillance and collecting data on us without any accountability?
This is nothing short of scandalous. No wonder the council have slipped this news out at Christmas.