Protected electronic information (which has, for example, been subjected to encryption) may be possible to access under the power conferred by Part III of RIPA, which was brought into force in October 2007 under Statutory Instrument 2007/2200.
Part III of RIPA extends to the whole of the UK and can be used by any public authority that has lawfully obtained, or reasonably expects to obtain, protected electronic information.
Whilst an explanation of encryption might itself be complex, in simple terms criminals and terrorists may use this to protect their electronic data and communications (on computers, mobile phones, etc) and thereby conceal evidence of their unlawful conduct and seek to avoid detection and prosecution.
Usually, something like a password is used to access the data, and more complex cryptography might also be used to disguise the data itself. Part III of RIPA provides a statutory framework that enables public authorities to require protected electronic information which they have obtained lawfully to be put into an intelligible form; or to acquire the means to gain access to protected information or to put this into an intelligible form.
The National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC) provides technical support to public authorities, and has a facility for the complex processing of lawfully obtained protected electronic information. NTAC is the national lead for all such activity and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org if you require further information.
If you work in a public authority, please contact your local RIPA/RIP(S)A advisor in the first instance.
The role of NTAC as a guardian and gatekeeper for the use of these Part III RIPA powers is key to ensuring there is no inappropriate use of them. NTAC is overseen by the Chief Surveillance Commissioner who also keeps under review, so far as these matters are not dealt with by either the Interception of Communications or Intelligence Services Commissioner, the following:
- The exercise and performance, by any person (other than a judicial authority or a person holding judicial office) of the powers and duties conferred or imposed, otherwise than with the permission of a judicial authority or a person holding judicial office, by or under Part III of RIPA, and
- The adequacy of the arrangements for complying with the safeguards in Section 55 of RIPA by those persons whose conduct is subject to review by the Chief Surveillance Commissioner.