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Surveillance equipment - 1149/18

Date Responded 23 November 2018

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked:

  1. Please can you inform me what surveillance equipment Northumbria Police are using in 2018, along with a list of any and all surveillance equipment held by the force.

 

  1. Please provide this information as a breakdown consisting of any force command areas where any equipment is stored or located, where it is most commonly used and for what purposes

In Response:

Northumbria Police can confirm that information is held relevant to your request however cannot be disclosed as the following exemptions apply:

Section 23(1) Information supplied by or concerning certain Security Bodies

Section 24(1) National Security

Section 31(1)(a)(b) Law Enforcement

Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to evidence the harm or articulate public interest considerations to the applicant.

With Sections 24 and 31 being prejudice based qualified exemptions there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or not whether information is held as well as considering the public interest.

Evidence of Harm

Although it is widely known that the Police use surveillance equipment, by providing an inventory of all equipment and its location would undermine individual forces capabilities, divulge policing tactics and prejudice the prevention and detection of crime. Whilst not questioning the motives of the applicant, providing information regarding the use of this specialist equipment for covert use, would show criminals what the capacity, tactical abilities and capabilities of each force are, allowing them to target specific areas of the UK to conduct their criminal/terrorist activities.

The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored. It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. Since 2006, the UK Government have published the threat level, based upon current intelligence and that threat has remained at the second highest level, ‘severe’, except for four short periods in August 2006, June 2007, May and September 2017 when it was raised ‘critical’, highest threat level. The UK continues to face a sustained threat from violent extremists and terrorists. 

It is well established that police forces use covert tactics and surveillance to gain intelligence in order to counteract criminal behaviour. It has been previously documented in the media that many terrorist incidents have been thwarted due to intelligence gained by these means.

 

 

Section 24(1) National Security

 

Factors favouring

The public are entitled to know what public funds are spent on and what security measures are in place, and by disclosing this information regarding the use of all surveillance equipment, would lead to a better-informed public.

 

Factors against

By disclosing information this would render security measures less effective. This would lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.

 

 

Sections 31(1)(a)(b) Law Enforcement

 

Factors favouring

Confirming or denying whether any other information is held regarding the use of surveillance would provide an insight into the police service. This would enable the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the police and about how the police gather intelligence. It would greatly assist in the quality and accuracy of public debate, which could otherwise be steeped in rumour and speculation. Where public funds are being spent, there is a public interest in accountability and justifying the use of public money.

 

Factors against

Providing an inventory of all surveillance equipment and its location would compromise law enforcement tactics which would hinder the prevention or detection of crime. This would impact of police resources, more crime would be committed and individuals placed at risk. It has been recorded that FOIA releases are monitored by criminals and terrorists and so to disclose information concerning specialist surveillance equipment would lead to law enforcement being undermined.

 

Balance test

The security of the country is of paramount importance and Northumbria Police will not divulge information regarding the inventory, use and storage of surveillance equipment. To do so would place the safety of individuals at risk, undermine National Security or compromise law enforcement.

Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by various groups or individuals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of police investigations and operations in the highly sensitive areas such as extremism, crime prevention, public disorder and terrorism prevention.

As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. It would not be in either the Police or the public’s interests to provide information which could aid those who are intent on causing disruption or harm to our communities or Police services in any way, therefore jeopardising Law Enforcement and putting National Security at risk.

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