RIPA or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 regulates the powers of public bodies, such as the government, police, secret service or local authorities to carry out surveillance and investigation. It also covers the interception of communications such as telephone tapping or bugging of homes or vehicles and the use of GPS trackers in investigations conducted by public bodies. Portions of RIPA also deal with surveillance, monitoring and interception of internet based data and communications.

Private Investigators and RIPA

Private investigators complete exactly the same activities for local authorities as they do for private clients, eg fitting a GPS tracker to a vehicle to track its position. So when does RIPA have to be followed? It depends on who is paying the bill. RIPA is applicable when the private investigator is paid by a public body or authority to assist them with their enquiries. RIPA is not designed to and does not protect individuals who are under investigation – for example where a husband instructs a private detective to find out information about his wife or an employer wants to know the movements of an employee. The primary regulation of surveillance in private matters is covered by the Data Protection Act, in so far as this will usually involve the processing of personal data.

A cynical view of RIPA would say that it is there to protect the public from “Big Brother” type surveillance being conducted by public bodies, including the government and security services.


The spirit of RIPA protects the public from needless and unwarranted surveillance
The spirit of RIPA protects the public from needless and unwarranted surveillance

There were amendments to the Act in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2010.

A more in depth explanation for RIPA can be found here.

RIPA in the context of Private Investigator’s and the DPA

It is easy to misinterpret the relationship of RIPA and where it fits in with both PI’s and the DPA. There are overlaps between the two pieces of legislation in that surveillance activity that RIPA is intended to monitor – in reality generally does lead – to the collection of data and information about individuals and is therefore a data protection matter and falls wihtin the DPA. Hence RIPA and DPA regulations are not exclusive to one another. We will write another article soon in relation to the DPA. In the meantime if you want any further advice on either matter and how it relates to Private Investigation, please feel free to call 0207 993 5923.