Council won’t reveal full details over controversial spying missions
Date posted: 28-08-2012
THURROCK COUNCIL has refused to give full details of how it uses controversial spying powers, a study has revealed.
Big Brother Watch conducted one of the most comprehensive studies into public bodies use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Local authorities can use covert techniques in support of their statutory functions such as: environmental crime; consumer scams; loan sharks; taxi cab regulation; underage sales of knives, alcohol, solvents and tobacco; and the employment of minors.
The use of the power hit the headlines two years ago after a parent took Poole Council to court after they found out they were being spied upon to assess whether they were living in a school catchment area.
The report revealed that Thurrock had used the powers 40 times in the last three years.
However, Thurrock Council refused to go into further details.
A council spokesperson told YT that detailing all 40 uses would be “Too expensive”.
Other councils have been more “accommodating”. Barking and Dagenham gave details of all 29 uses; Bromley all 206; Hammersmith 97 and even Kent who declared and detailed a chart topping 319 uses.
Whilst around in Essex, Basildon detailed their 12 uses, Brentwood 4, Braintree 7 and Castle Point 43.
The report has an introduction written by communities minister, Eric Pickles
Mr Pickles said: “Reflecting pledges made by Conservatives in opposition, the Coalition Agreement committed the Government to ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act by local authorities, unless they were signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime.
“The Protection of Freedoms Act brings this into law, ensuring the public can be confident that overzealous town hall bureaucrats do not use powers intended for terrorism or serious criminal investigations for trivial issues.
“Under Labour, councils seriously abused and over-used such snooping powers – for matters as trivial as spying on garden centres for selling pot plants; snooping on staff for using work showers or monitoring shops for unlicensed parrots.”
Commenting on Thurrock Council’s reluctance to give full details of their use of the act, a Big Brother Watch spokesperson said: “The vast majority of public bodies have been very helpful. Some may be less helpful as further analysis may question how many cases led to court action.”
Sir Paul Kennedy’s (Chief Commissioner of the Interception of Communication Commissioners Office) recently publicised 2011 report to Parliament backed the use of RIPA.
Sir Paul said: “I am aware that some sections of the media have been very critical of local authorities in the past and there are allegations that they often use the powers which are conferred upon them under RIPA inappropriately.
The Poole case, although extremely regrettable, is the first and only instance that my inspectors have found in the 212 individual local authority inspections that have been conducted since 2006.
“Thousands of applications have been scrutinised since the start of the inspection regime and therefore the evidence that local authorities are frequently using their powers inappropriately is just not there.”
To see the report, go to www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk