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Thursday 23 August 2012, 13:46
Editor's Note - Sian Healey is Head of Communications and Policy for TV Licensing. In this post she writes about the BBC's use of RIPA - the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
I wanted to correct some news reports this week that wrongly stated that the BBC is one of several public bodies refusing to disclose whether they use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), the legislation which regulates the use of surveillance.
The story originated from a report published by Big Brother Watch, which sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to public bodies asking a number of questions, including how many times these powers have been used and for which offences. The report noted that a number of public authorities, including the BBC, "refuse to disclose how often, for what purpose and what type of surveillance they have undertaken".
In our response to Big Brother Watch we were entirely open about the fact that the BBC does use these powers through its TV Licensing team to detect evasion, a criminal offence. This happens only as a last resort when other less intrusive enforcement methods have been exhausted. This information has been confirmed by the BBC on many occasions in the past and is documented on the TV Licensing website under the fourth heading 'Detection'.
However, we do not release details of exactly how and when detection is used. This is in order to ensure that people without a TV licence do not use this information to their advantage when attempting to evade the licence fee.
As these reports correctly state, the use of RIPA is perfectly legal. It is also worth noting that the BBC is inspected every two years by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, the independent body which monitors legal compliance of RIPA. Their two most recent reports praised the responsible and professional way in which the BBC conducts RIPA investigations.
The BBC's sole use of RIPA is to detect TV Licence evasion on behalf of the vast majority of the population (95%) who pay their licence. Used responsibly, transparently and when there is no other option, we value the legislation as a useful way of helping to reduce evasion levels still further and enforce the law.
Sian Healey is Head of Communications and Policy for TV Licensing