I think I'm under surveillance

I think I’m under surveillance

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our page here.

What are the different kinds of surveillance?

There are different kinds of surveillance. Some examples are:

  • bugging your car or private premises
  • making video recordings of you
  • tracking you to locate where you are.

It can also be when public authorities monitor or intercept your communications. For example:

  • your phone calls
  • your texts
  • your emails
  • your post.

When is it lawful?

The police and intelligence services have powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (sometimes known as ‘RIPA’) that allow them to carry out secret surveillance on members of the public.

Secret surveillance (called ‘covert surveillance’ in RIPA) is when the people being watched are not aware that this is happening. There are two kinds of covert surveillance. These are:

  • monitoring you in public (this is called ‘directed surveillance’)
  • monitoring you at home (this is called ‘intrusive surveillance’).

Directed surveillance

The police and intelligence services can carry out directed surveillance where this is authorised by someone sufficiently senior within the organisation. Authorisation may only be granted where it is considered proportionate and necessary under RIPA. Possible reasons include:

  • in the interests of national security
  • for preventing / detecting crime or preventing disorder
  • in the interests of public safety
  • for the purpose of protecting public health.

Local authorities also have powers to authorise directed surveillance, but only to prevent or detect certain types of crime. These include:

  • crimes with a maximum penalty of six months or more
  • crimes relating to the sale of drugs and alcohol to children.

Any directed surveillance carried out must be for the purpose specified in the authorisation – and not for any other purpose.

Intrusive surveillance

The police and intelligence services can carry out intrusive surveillance, but this must be authorised by the most senior police officer in the force or by the Home Secretary.

The grounds for authorising intrusive surveillance are stricter. It can only be authorised:

  • in the interests of national security
  • for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime, or
  • in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK.

Intercepting communications

The police and intelligence services also have powers under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (sometimes known as IPA) that allow them to lawfully monitor and intercept people’s communications.

This is lawful if they have a warrant from the Home Secretary – for reasons such as protecting national security, and preventing and detecting serious crime. The warrant may only be granted where it is both proportionate and necessary on one of those grounds.

There are also some other limited circumstances where public authorities can intercept communications. For example, where a court has ordered it or where there are other specific powers set out in the law.

What are my rights?

Your right to privacy is protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR for short). This is brought into UK law in the Human Rights Act 1998.

Most of the time Article 8 protects you against unnecessary intrusion into your personal life by the police, intelligence services and other public bodies.

But your right to privacy may be lawfully limited by the state where this is allowed by the law (for example RIPA or IPA) and is necessary:

  • in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country
  • for the prevention of disorder or crime
  • for the protection of health or morals, or
  • for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

When your right to privacy is limited, it must always be done in a way that is proportionate.

Can I complain about surveillance?

If you believe you are under surveillance, you can make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (known as the IPT).

This a court that will investigate whether you’ve been subjected to any surveillance that is unlawful – or breaches your human rights.

The IPT can consider two types of complaint.

The IPT can obtain evidence you might not be able to get yourself. This means you don’t have to prove there has been surveillance, but it will help if you can tell them anything that supports your claim.

Making a claim to the IPT is free, even if you lose. You do not need a lawyer to represent you, but it may be a good idea to seek legal advice.

Find out more about these different types of complaints and the forms you need to fill in.

Or contact the Investigatory Powers Tribunal:

  • by email at info@ipt-uk.com
  • by post at The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, PO Box 33220, London SW1H 9ZQ
  • by telephone on 0207 035 3711.


If you’re feeling anxious or stressed because you think you might be under surveillance, you should contact your GP.

They may be able to suggest ways to deal with the distress you feel as a result of this situation.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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