RIPA 18 was the downfall of Julia Montague, the Home Secretary, in BBC's Bodyguard. Far from being a total work of fiction, RIPA (or to give it its full name, The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) is very much a real thing. It is a piece of legislation that has been around since 2000 and it covers a wide range of matters from the interception of communications to surveillance and covert human intelligence. The scope of RIPA 2000 is so wide-reaching that even employers need to be alive to its impact on the workplace. 

By way of example, under RIPA 2000 it is an offence to "intentionally and without lawful authority" intercept communications on a public or private telecommunications system. Therefore, an employer who is secretly listening in on its employees telephone conversations on the work system may well be committing a crime. The possible consequences that follow could include a hefty fine and/or imprisonment. 

However, employers should not starting panicking just yet as it may well be that they do have authority for such snooping activities, therefore taking it outside of the remit of RIPA 2000. The best way to ensure permission is to obtain informed and voluntary consent to the monitoring from the employee. Another route is via a piece of legislation called the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 which set out a number of circumstances where surveillance activities are permissible, such as where the employer is seeking to ascertain compliance with practices and procedures (think quality control) or investigate unauthorised use of their systems (think excessive private telephone calls being made on the work system by an employee).

To further complicate matters from the employer's point of view, there are data protection and privacy issues to also contend with. Therefore, employers who wish to monitor their systems would be well advised to ensure that they have a detailed policy in place and all the necessary consents. Otherwise, RIPA (and other related legislation) may well be their downfall too.