Intelligence regulation of investigatory powers act: covert surveillance

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National Security Framework Ref: NSF 4.6


This instruction applies to :-

Reference :-

NOMS Headquarters


PSI 22/2012

Issue Date

Effective Date

Implementation Date Date

Expiry Date




Issued on the authority of

NOMS Agency Board

For action by

For information

  • All staff in NOMS HQ and prison establishments

  • Deputy Directors of Custody

  • Regional Corruption Prevention Managers

  • Police Intelligence Officers


  • Tactical advice: Central Authorities Bureau

  • CAB E-mail :

  • CAB hotline : 0300 047 6354

  • Policy E-mail :

  • Tel: 0300 047 6171

Associated documents

  • CHIS Codes of Practice

  • Related Service Specification

  • Related Operating Models

  • Related Direct Service Costs and Assumptions paper
    Related Cost Spreadsheets

  • See:

Audit/monitoring: Compliance with this instruction will be monitored by Audit and Corporate Assurance and through internal self-audit. All establishments are also subject to inspection by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC)

Introduces amendments to the following documents: - This PSI, together with others on intelligence and powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) replaced guidance in the previous NSF Function 4 (Communications and Surveillance).

In this document, the term Governor also applies to Directors of Contracted Prisons.

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Applicable to
All staff working within prisons and HQ.


Executive summary


Policy and Strategic Context


Operational Instructions


1.1 The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) came into force in 2000 and provides prisons with a power to use covert surveillance. The legislation and associated Codes of Practice provide the framework for the use of covert surveillance and the application within prisons is set out in this PSI.
1.2 This PSI replaces the previous version of PSO 1000 – National Security Framework Function 4 regarding covert surveillance.
1.3 A restricted PSI is being issued to governors, which contains more detailed instructions. Governors must only share that PSI with staff engaged or likely to be engaged in the use of covert surveillance.
1.4 This instruction covers covert surveillance by public authorities (directed surveillance) and covert surveillance in a dwelling (includes a cell) or private vehicle (intrusive surveillance).
Desired Outcomes
1.5 All prisons will use covert surveillance where it is necessary and proportionate to do so for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime/serious crime, preventing disorder, or on the grounds of public safety.
1.6 All prisons will have trained staff in the key roles to ensure that covert surveillance is undertaken in accordance with the law.
1.7 The use of covert surveillance will be an integral part of the intelligence gathering system within prisons.
1.8 Covert surveillance will assist with the maintenance of control in prisons and allow Managers to take informed decisions.
1.9 Compliance with RIPA across the whole prison estate and for this to be confirmed annually by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC).
1.10 This PSI is applicable to all establishments although it should be noted that in Contracted Out prisons, the application and authorisation process is slightly different.
Mandatory Action
1.11 Covert surveillance must only be undertaken in accordance with the law.
1.12 Overt CCTV cameras must not be used for pre planned target use against prisoners or visitors unless supported by an appropriate RIPA authorisation.
1.13 At all times, there must be at least one trained Authorising Officer available to consider an application for covert surveillance of a public place (directed surveillance).
1.14 All applications for covert surveillance must be on covert surveillance form 1 unless the urgent oral application provisions are being used.
1.15 All applications must contain a URN obtained from the Central Authorities Bureau (CAB) in Security Group before being submitted to the Authorising Officer.
1.16 An application to undertake covert surveillance in a prisoner’s cell or within a private vehicle must be submitted to the CAB to quality assure before submission to a Secretary of State for authorisation except where such activity is required in immediate response to a hostage incident in a cell.
1.17 RIPA powers must not be used if the grounds for the covert surveillance are not allowed for by the legislation. Therefore if covert surveillance is sought to investigate a matter that will be subject to disciplinary matters only (e.g. secondary employment) RIPA powers must not be used.
Resource Impact
1.18 There may be a minor cost in updating local instructions but no new policy is being introduced so in effect this PSI is cost neutral, particularly in establishments with appropriate systems in place.


Digby Griffith

Director of National Operational Services, NOMS

Policy and Strategic Context

2.1 The Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 incorporated into UK law the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). One such right is the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8). Where NOMS seeks to obtain private information by means of covert information it is likely that this right will be engaged. The authorisation procedures in RIPA are designed to ensure that any interference with this right is likely to be justifiable as being in accordance with law, necessary in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and proportionate.
2.2 NOMS has powers to use directed surveillance for the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime, preventing disorder, or on the grounds of public safety.
2.3 NOMS has powers to use intrusive surveillance for the purpose of the prevention or detection of serious crime only.
2.4 Alongside this PSI, which is written in order to be available to all staff, is a restricted PSI that will be sent to governors only for distribution to staff engaged in covert surveillance applications, gatekeepers, and Authorising Officers, and other staff as necessary on a need to know basis.


Text within shaded boxes indicate requirements from the “Provision of a Secure Operating Environment” bundle of specifications. All instructions below are mandatory.

Directed and intrusive covert surveillance is authorised, managed, and recorded.

3.1 Covert surveillance forms part of the intelligence gathering opportunities for prison managers.

3.2 Detailed policy and operational procedures are set out in a restricted PSI.
3.3 There must be no covert surveillance unless the proper application process has been followed and an authorisation given by an appropriate Authorising Officer, listed in the covert surveillance order or codes of practice as having power to carry out the role.
3.4 Reviews, renewals, and cancellations must be carried out in a timely manner.

3.5 Arrangements must be in place at the time of the application for the management and storage of material from covert surveillance.

3.6 All who are engaged in the covert surveillance operation must be fully briefed and must sign a declaration that they have seen a written copy of the authority and that they understand what is permitted through the authorisation.
3.7 Product from covert surveillance cannot be shared with another Agency or used in evidence without authority of the Authorising Officer or in certain cases, the Head of Security Group in HQ.
3.8 Records must be maintained by the Central Authorities Bureau (CAB) in Security Group. The CAB also provides Unique Reference Numbers (URN) for all applications before the application is considered by the AO.

3.9 Directed Surveillance is defined in section 26(2) of the 2000 Act as surveillance which is covert, but not intrusive, and undertaken:

  • for the purposes of a specific investigation or specific operation

  • in such a manner as is likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person (whether or not one specifically identified for the purposes of the investigation or operation)

  • otherwise than by way of an immediate response to events or circumstances the nature of which is such that it would not be reasonably practicable for an authorisation under Part II of the 2000 Act to be sought for the carrying out of the surveillance

Intrusive Surveillance
3.10 Intrusive surveillance is defined in section 26(3) of the Act as covert surveillance that:

  1. is carried out in relation to anything taking place on any residential premises or in any private vehicle; and

  1. involves the presence of an individual on the premises or in the vehicle or is carried out by means of a surveillance device

3.11 The definition of residential premises includes prison cells.

3.12 Covert surveillance is defined in section 26(9(a) as any surveillance which is carried out in a manner calculated to ensure that the persons subject to the surveillance are unaware that it is or may be taking place. It should be noted that where staff wish to deploy the use of overt CCTV to constantly monitor a prison cell for example for the prisoner’s own safety (and not for the purposes of preventing or detecting serious crime) this may be authorised within the provisions of Prison Rule 50A.

Information obtained by covert surveillance is shared securely with identified stakeholders.

3.13 Product from covert surveillance cannot be used, disclosed or shared with another agency without authorisation by the Authorising Officer or another person outlined in the Restricted PSI. A record of any use of the product must be obtained.

3.14 Authorising Officers must comply with the disclosure requirements of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) and should seek advice from the CAB if uncertain whether to disclose product or not.
3.15 Staff must neither confirm nor deny (NCND) a covert surveillance operation unless authorised to do so by an appropriate senior manager or required to do so by law.
3.16 Further information is set out in the restricted PSI.



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