Redcar and Cleveland Council successfully sought permission from a magistrate to sign off on covert surveillance as part of an investigation into the sale of counterfeit goods.

An annual report for council members monitoring the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) said the “directed” surveillance was linked to a trading standards operation probing the sale of illegal items on social media.

It described how in such instances there was a likelihood of private information being obtained and authorisation from a magistrate was required.

The Northern Echo: Generic picture of a laptop with data on itGeneric picture of a laptop with data on it (Image: PIXABAY)

Local authorities are legally required to carry out detailed monitoring of RIPA with statutory safeguards being put in place so that when directed surveillance is undertaken, or communications data accessed, the process is fully recorded and transparent.

The role of the magistrate, who can refuse to give authorisation, is to ensure that correct procedures are followed and any relevant factors taken into account.

Councils can only sanction directed surveillance in cases where the potential offence carries a potential custodial sentence of six months or more.

The Northern Echo: Redcar and Cleveland Council's headquarters in RedcarRedcar and Cleveland Council's headquarters in Redcar (Image: LDR)

Consideration must also be given to the potential danger of “collateral intrusion” – where the details of an innocent third party may become known through any actions taken.

The report for members of the council’s governance committee and covering 2022/23 said there was only one RIPA authorisation over the period.

It pointed out that councils had no power to grant authorisations for “intrusive” surveillance – for example within residential premises or in a private vehicle – and should only undertake operations for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime.

Recommended reading:

Get more from The Northern Echo with a Premium Plus digital subscription from as little as only £1.50 a week. Click here.

The trading standards investigation was said to have “resulted in success in gathering evidence and the test purchase of items to evidence illegal selling”.

The report said compliance with RIPA legislation was reviewed by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office roughly every three years.

The last applications by Redcar and Cleveland Council under RIPA powers dated back to 2020 with four being made, again by trading standards, that year.