Councils use absurd excuses to spy on us – official

People suspected of not clearing up after dog mess is just one of the “absurd” reasons local councils have used in order spy on citizens, a condemning council report has revealed.

The Big Brother Watch Grim RIPA report found the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) was used on average 11 times a day by councils in England, Wales and Scotland over the past two years with local authorities coming up with every excuse under the sun to play Big Brother.

The actions by the councils have been described as a “disgrace” by privacy groups.

Ripa allows councils to use methods such as bugging houses and vehicles, following people and using informers. In a survey of 372 authorities under the Freedom of Information Act it was found that there were 8,575 instances of RIPA used since April 1, 2008. More than 12 local authorities admitted using the act to check up on dog owners whose animals were suspected of dog fouling, with Allerdale Council in Cumbria reporting six such incidences of surveillance.

The council said the purpose of one of the investigations was: “To obtain evidence to see if [a] person is walking their dog, cleaning up after it but then depositing poop bag in trees, grass, or on road.”

Charles Ferrier a representative at No CCTV told us: “When LEAs were given these powers the Government was warned this would happen and previous reports were shown that this decision wasn’t even debated in parliament.

“LEAs have been given carte blanche to surveil like mad and it’s an absolute disgrace that they should be spying on people walking dogs.”

He also agreed with Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, who said: “Now that the absurd and excessive use of Ripa surveillance has been revealed, these powers have to be taken away from councils. The coalition Government plan to force councils to get warrants before snooping on us is good but doesn’t go far enough. If the offence is serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it should be in the hands of the police.”

Both men also criticised the new plans announced by the new coalition Government, which claimed it would ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime, describing the measure as “not going far enough.”

And if that wasn’t enough to put you off stepping out of the house, it gets worse. Big Brother Watch also cited Newcastle-upon-Tyne as the local authority which was most obsessed with spying claiming it used the act 231 times in two years. However, councils in Hambleton, north Yorkshire, and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham also admitted to using the act to check on their own employees suspected of falsely claiming illness. And it seems the odd drinker is also cause of council entertainment with some  councils saying they monitored customers smoking and drinking outside a pub.

We contacted the LEA, which promised us some comment but we hadn’t got anything back at the time of going to publication. We assume no-one could tear themselves away from their CCTV screens to give us a quote. No doubt they saw us waving from our office window.