Joint review recommends changes to search and surveillance laws

Publication Date 
30 January 2018

Police should be able to conduct a wider range of surveillance but should exercise their powers more transparently, according to a new report.

The Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice’s joint review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 re-examines the balance between enabling effective law enforcement and protecting people’s human rights. 

Law Commissioner Donna Buckingham says that the Act, which governs the search and surveillance activities of Police and some other enforcement agencies, already works well.

"The Act does not need a major overhaul.  All we are proposing are amendments to make the law clearer and to update it in response to the effects of new technology."

Since 2012 when the Act became law, technology has moved on.  People and organisations generate far more data than ever before and store it in a wide variety of places, including online. New surveillance technologies have also developed. 

Donna Buckingham says that it is important for Police and other enforcement agencies to be able to keep up with these developments.

"Police officers need to access data and to use new technologies to investigate crime, but people also have a right to privacy and personal integrity. Our search and surveillance laws need to balance those interests."

The report proposes requiring enforcement officers to take into account certain principles before exercising search and surveillance powers, such as the need to minimise privacy intrusions. It also includes recommendations to regulate undercover operations and to limit the ability to search an electronic device, such as a smartphone, without a warrant

The Final Report reviewing the Search and Surveillance Act is available on the Law Commission's website.