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Clearly it is legal sometimes: today in the news was the trial of Darren Osment, in the past few decades there was a big deal about an officer that sired a son with an eco activist under a pseudonym before abandoning her to raise him herself.

What circumstances permit this policing practice, and must it be authorised by either a senior officer or a court at any point?

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  • It’sa practice of police assuming a false cover identity to infiltrate someone’s life by ingratiating themselves with them. In that case it went to the extent of forming a sexual relationship that resulted in offspring. Dec 20, 2023 at 0:53

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The legislative framework for Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS), which includes undercover police officers, is at Surveillance and covert human intelligence sources, Part II Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 established an independent single oversight body for all investigatory powers: the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO).

When an undercover police officer acts as a CHIS they are known as a 'relevant source'. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Relevant Sources) Order 2013 (the Relevant Sources Order) sets out additional safeguards that apply to undercover police officers.

This includes the requirement that such work can only be authorised by an officer or the rank of Assistant Chief Constable or higher or, for deployments of 12 months or longer, the rank of Chief Constable, and notified to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. These longer term deployments must also be approved by a judicial commissioner from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office.

Authorisations may be given where "necessary" on the following grounds:

  • in the interests of national security;
  • for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime;
  • in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK;
  • in the interests of public safety;
  • for the purpose of protecting public health;
  • for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department

The House of Commons Library published a briefing paper about Undercover Policing in England and Wales that may be of interest.

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