Disclosure Details

Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPA) Act and RIPSA - 464/12

Dated: 31 Jul 2015

Date of request:   30/05/2012

Date of response:   02/07/2012

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)

Thank you for your email dated 30 May 2012 in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked: 

I am writing to obtain information about this police force’s use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Scotland Act (RIPSA).  In particular I wish to obtain details of the requests for communications data authorized under RIPA and RIPSA in the past five years. 
  
To outline my query as clearly as possible, I am requesting:

  1. How many times has your police force requested communications data under the RIPA and RIPSA legislation in the periods:  

    a)  30 April 2009 - 1 May 2010? 
    b)  30 April 2010 - 1 May 2011? 
    c)  30 April 2011 - 1 May 2012?  

    In each instance, please state the nature of the offence under investigation (e.g. fraud, theft etc.) and the authority from which you requested the data (e.g. Internet Service Provider, Telecommunications company).  

    Please also provide details of how many resulted in prosecutions and convictions.

  2. How many requests for communications data were rejected internally.

Please note I am not asking for details of the defendants or specific cases. 

In response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Crime Department of Northumbria Police.  I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.

I have decided to disclose the located information to you as follows.

  1. The number of applications authorised by Northumbria Police are as follows:- 
    a)  30 April 2009 - 1 May 2010  =  3,503 
    b)  30 April 2010 - 1 May 2011  =  2,825 
    c)  30 April 2011 - 1 May 2012  =  4,319

    Information regarding the nature of the offence, the authority from which the data was requested and the number that resulted in prosecutions and convictions will not be disclosed and by withholding we will rely on the following exemption:-

    Section 30 Investigations and Proceeding Conducted by Public Authorities

    Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption which means that the public interest needs to be considered and articulated to the applicant.  I have set this out below.

    Public Interest Considerations

    Factors Favouring Disclosure:

    There is information within the public domain confirming that police use RIPA to assist them with investigations and the effective delivery of law enforcement.

    Disclosure would enhance the public’s knowledge about how information relating to RIPA is used by Northumbria Police and how the intelligence received assists in day-to-day investigations and operations to assist with the prevention and detection of crime; the apprehension and prosecution of offenders and the administration of justice.

    Disclosure would also assist in stopping any incorrect rumours or falsehoods relating to how the police manage their RIPA applications.

    Factors Favouring Non-disclosure:

    Disclosure of the information requested could identify intelligence required for the investigation of a crime within the Northumbria Police force area.  This would allow individuals to analyse the information and identify the focus of police activity, enabling those committing crime to move their operations, destroy evidence or go ‘underground’.  This would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and consequently, the force’s law enforcement capabilities would be affected.

    Balance Test

    The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve and there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations to ensure investigations are conducted appropriately.

    Modern-day policing is intelligence led and the Police Service share information with other law enforcement agencies as part of their intelligence gathering process.  To disclose the requested information would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and undermine the partnership approach to investigations and law enforcement.  Therefore, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test lies in favour of exempting the information.

  2. The number of applications rejected by Northumbria Police are as follows:- 
    a)  30 April 2009 - 1 May 2010  =  52 
    b)  30 April 2010 - 1 May 2011  =  93 
    c)  30 April 2011 - 1 May 2012  =  68

Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) places two duties on public authorities.  Unless exemptions apply, the first duty at Section 1(1)(a) is to confirm or deny whether the information specified in a request is held.  The second duty at Section 1(1)(b) is to disclose information that has been confirmed as being held.  Where exemptions are relied upon Section 17 of FOIA requires that we provide the applicant with a notice which: a) states that fact b) specifies the exemption(s) in question and c) states (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.

Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to your request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply, by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 23(5) Information relating to the Security bodies; 
Section 24(2) National Security; 
Section 30(3) Investigations; 
Section 31(3) Law enforcement;
 

Section 23 is an absolute class-based exemption and therefore there is no requirement to conduct a harm or public interest test.  Sections 24, and 31 are prejudice based qualified exemptions and there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or not that the information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.  Section 30 is a qualified class-based exemption and there is a requirement to conduct a public interest test.  I have set these out below.

Overall Harm

In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police and other agencies have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, in order to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of those who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism.  In order to achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place with other police forces and security bodies within the UK and Internationally in order to support counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive international terrorist networks of their ability to commit crime.

It should be recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.  The UK faces a serious and sustained threat from violent extremists and this threat is greater in scale and ambition than any of the terrorist threats in the past.

Since 2006, the UK Government have published the threat level, based upon current intelligence and that threat has remained at the second highest level, ‘severe’, except for two short periods during August 2006 and June and July 2007, when it was raised to the highest threat ‘critical’. 
The Police Service is committed to demonstrating proportionality and accountability regarding surveillance techniques to the appropriate authorities.  However, if the Police Service were to either confirm or deny that any other information exists, other covert surveillance tactics will either be compromised or significantly weakened.  If the Police Service denies a tactic is used in one request but then exempts for another, requesters can determine the ‘exempt’ answer is in fact a technique used in policing.  The impact could undermine national security, any on-going investigations and any future investigations, as it would enable targeted individuals/groups to become surveillance aware.  This would help subjects avoid detection, and inhibit the prevention and detection of crime.

The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built and the police have a clear responsibility to prevent crime and arrest those responsible for committing crime or those that plan to commit crime.  To do this the police require evidence and that evidence can come from a number of sources, some of which is obtained through covert means.  Having obtained sufficient evidence offenders are charged with offences and placed before the courts.  By confirming or denying that any other information pertinent to this request exists could directly influence the stages of that process, and jeopardise current investigations or prejudice law enforcement.

Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations.  Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both national security and law enforcement.

Public Interest Considerations

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S24:  The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and by confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists could lead to a better-informed public that can take steps to protect themselves.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S24:  By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists would render Security measures less effective.  This could lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S31:  By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists, would enable the public to see where public funds are being spent.  Better public awareness may reduce crime or lead to more information from the public.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S31:  By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists, law enforcement tactics could be compromised which could hinder the prevention and detection of crime.  More crime could be committed and individuals placed at risk.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S30:  By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists would enable the public to obtain satisfaction that all investigations are conducted properly and that their public money is well spent.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S30:  By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists, would hinder the prevention or detection of crime, undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement , which would subsequently affect the Northumbria Police's future law enforcement capabilities.

Balance Test

The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police service will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so could undermine National Security or compromise law enforcement.  Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and in this case providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by the criminal fraternity, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in this area.

As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of national security this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.  Therefore, it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying whether any other information relevant to your request exists is not made out.

There is also no requirement to satisfy any public concern over the legality of police operations and the tactics we may or may not use.  The force is already held to account by independent bodies such as The Office of the Surveillance Commissioner and The Interception of Communications Commissioners Office.  These inspections assess each constabulary’s compliance with the legislation and a full report is submitted to the Prime Minister and Scottish Ministers containing statistical information.  Our accountability is therefore not enhanced by confirming or denying that any other information is held.

None of the above can be viewed as an inference that any other information does or does not exist.

You may be interested to know that Northumbria Police routinely publish information that has been disclosed by Northumbria Police in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 via the Disclosure Log.  The aim of the Disclosure Log is to promote openness and transparency by voluntarily placing information into the public arena.

Whilst it is not possible to publish all responses we will endeavour to publish those where we feel that the information disclosed is in the public interest.  The Disclosure Log will be updated once responses have been sent to the requester.  I have provided the relevant link below:-

http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/index.asp

The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police.  Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation.  In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.


How to complain

If you are unhappy with our decision or do not consider that we have handled your request properly and we are unable to resolve this issue informally, you are entitled to make a formal complaint to us underour complaints procedure which can be found at:http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/foicomprights.asp

If you are still unhappy after we have investigated your complaint and reported to you the outcome, you may complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office and request that they investigate to ascertain whether we have dealt with your request in accordance with the Act. 

Downloads

FOI Complaint Rights Procedure_tcm4-28029