Privacy watchdog Big Brother Watch has claimed that public bodies, including the BBC and Ofsted, are using surveillance powers on a regular basis.
Following a string of Freedom of Information requests, the campaigning group has released a report containing information on the responses, or lack of, from a variety of public organisations.
Requests made under the FOI Act concerned the powers granted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), put in place in 2000 to grant powers of surveillance. The moves enable organisations to perform surveillance such as interception of communications. Organisations granted powers of surveillance range from the police to local councils.
According to Big Brother Watch, a number of public authorities which have power under RIPA have refused to disclose any information on how often they are used it, or for what purpose. These bodies include the BBC, Ofsted, the Royal Mail and the Office of Fair Trading.
The Big Brother Watch report also shows the number of RIPA investigations undertaken by local authorities. 345 local authorities have conducted RIPA surveillance in the past three years, amounting to a total of 9,607 cases. Such cases have included 26 local authorities employing surveillance for dog fouling, while seven have done so to nab those flouting smoking bans.
Kent is the local authority which has made the most RIPA investigations, a total of 315 in the past three years.
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said in a statement that all RIPA investigations by public bodies should be subject to judicial approval.
“It is unacceptable for public authorities to keep secret details of why they are spying on the public and to use these powers without ever seeking a court’s approval,” Pickles said. “Judicial approval for spying on us should be the norm, not the exception and the public have a right to know why and how these powers are being used.”
Pickles continued: “The current law is broken and before further surveillance powers are considered we need to fix the situation. Fiddling around the edges by making small changes in new laws risks making the law even more complicated and puts at risk everyone’s privacy and civil liberties.”