Terror laws used 10,000 times to spy on petty offences in the UK

Regional councils have used top-level anti-terror spying powers more than 10,000 times to detect “crimes” as minor as littering and even the theft of fairy lights, it emerged yesterday.

The figure was extracted from information provided by 182 councils who admitted that 1,615 staff – a fifth of them below senior management – were authorised to order spy missions.

The powers were used 10,288 times in the last five years.

But only nine per cent of inquiries led to a successful prosecution, a caution or a fine.

If all the 400 councils in England and Wales were using the powers to the same extent, they would have enforced them more than 21,000 times since 2004 – with more than 3,200 staff allowed to approve the operations.

The surveillance was carried out under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

When it was introduced in 2000, Ripa covered only nine organisations including the police and security services and was meant to help them to combat terrorism.

But it was extended in 2003 to include 795 bodies, including local authorities.

Liberal Democrat local government spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy, who obtained the data through Freedom of Information requests, said: “This Government sees civil liberties as little more than a temporary inconvenience.

“Slowly but surely, freedoms have been eroded.

“We are now in a situation where dog fouling is considered enough to warrant surveillance by council officials.

“Unless Ripa is reformed, it risks becoming just a snoopers’ charter.

“Surveillance powers should only be used to investigate serious crimes and must require a magistrate’s warrant.”

The Government has admitted that the powers may be over-used in some cases.

In December Home Secretary Jacqui Smith called for a review.

The Home Office said yesterday that the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner had already issued new guidance on how Ripa techniques should be used.

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3 Responses

  1. […] review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which has allowed local authorities to mount 10,000 surveillance operations in the last five years. “Our country has a proud tradition of individual freedom,” she […]

  2. Is Sheffield one of the errant councils?
    If so, how many times, what for, and when?

  3. […] authorities to mount 10,000 surveillance operations in the last five years. As Mathias Vermeulen blogs, regional councils have used top-level spying powers 10,288 times in the past 5 years to detect […]

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