Is your council is watching you?

Privacy group warning against Big Brother-style surveillance by local authorities

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Hundreds if not thousands of covert operations have been carried out on unsuspecting members of the public by councils across Britain using anti-terror laws that were never designed and intended for use by councils in this way.

Authorities have authorized more than 430 RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) investigations in the past two years to spy on the residents of the country of Kent alone.

Powers permit councils to use bugging devices, informers and cameras to spy on the public, allowing them to check up on people they suspect of wrongdoing. RIPA also gives authorities the power to follow people.

Out of all those warrants issues in the county of Kent alone only 28 prosecutions followed as a result of such surveillance.

Critics argue rightly that if an alleged wrongdoing is serious enough to warrant covert surveillance it should be a police investigation.

Some of the council's spokespeople, however, give the flimsiest of excuses for the misuse of powers that were intended only to be used against terrorist threats and such like and not in the way that they are being used.

While the issue such as fly-tipping and cold callers may not always be a police matter neither is also a matter for the RIPA 2000 legislation.

The use of the RIPA powers in this way are to be stopped under proposals by the new coalition government, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and used to stop serious crime.

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said if an alleged wrongdoing is serious enough, it should be in the hands of the police. “Now that the absurd and excessive use of RIPA surveillance has been revealed, these powers have to be taken away from councils,” he said. “That the coalition government plans to force councils to get warrants is good, but doesn’t go far enough.” Nationally, 8,500 covert surveillance operations on members of the public were carried out in the past two years.

And that, folks, is only the ones that they tell us about.

While the RIPA legislation may have its place in the fight of serious crime and the threat of terrorism it has no place to be used for spying on residents as to whether they put out their trash cans at the right time, or the right bins at the right day, or whether someone is selling alcohol to underage kids. The latter is what Trading Standards is for and the police.

The RIPA legislation has made councils power crazy and they need to be taken away from them again, once and for all.

© 2010