Cambridge Council doesn’t let the law get in the way

“Technically, this amounted to intrusive surveillance, which the police can authorise, but the council cannot.”   Cambridge City Council report.

As reported on the front page of today’s Cambridge News, a report to Cambridge city council, to be discussed next week, highlights how the Council signed off on an operation to install hidden CCTV cameras in the home of a resident, despite not having the legal authority to do so.

The situation clearly warranted action to protect the resident and to ensure a proper prosecution could be mounted. This is why the police do have the power to install hidden cameras – and in this case it should have been the police investigating, not the council. While the Protection of Freedoms Act will now require a council seeks a magistrate’s approval for Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act operation, other public authorities will not.

It highlights just how weak the safeguards around these powers are that a council thought it had the power to plant secret cameras in someone’s home when they absolutely do not.

The failures in authorisation and legal advice are starkly laid out in this case, but in how many other situations are public authorities erring beyond their powers? We do not know, and cases like this only further highlight the weakness of the current oversight regime around RIPA.