How councils are planning to catch you out
Filed under: Your Rights
Councils have been quietly installing a network of CCTV cameras, employing professional snoopers, and devising underhand tactics to catch you at your crimes, and punish you with hefty fines.
New reportBig Brother Watch has put together a report into just how closely councils are watching you, and the results are alarming. From a series of Freedom of Information requests over a period of months, they discovered that councils have embarked on over 9,500 spying cases in the last three years. Kent council alone managed to raise 315.
They are taking advantage of anti-terror laws, specifically the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), brought in to allow the authorities to spy on those it is concerned may have terrorism in mind. However, clearly many of them have very different, revenue-raising objectives.
Minor offencesThe report found that 26 local authorities have used the act to spy on dog owners they thought were allowing their dogs to foul the pavement - to enable them to issue spot fines. Meanwhile seven have used the law to investigate whether or not the smoking ban was being flouted.
Other major crimes that councils have been cracking down on include dropping litter, putting out the rubbish early on bin day, and cheating in order to pretend you are inside a school catchment area.
Big Brother Watch insisted: "It is simply unacceptable for organisations to use RIPA powers to spy on the public while avoiding accountability for how and why they do."
There will be those who argue that those flouting the laws (however minor) ought to be prepared to face the full force of the law. There will be others who question whether these crimes are worthy of the time and money spent on them, and whether some are being targeted purely to rake in cash from spot fines.
OverhaulThe good news for those worried about council snooping is that from November, councils will need the permission of a magistrate before they can spy on someone - so a third party will adjudicate whether a crime is sufficiently alarming to warrant it.
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government agreed that things had gone to far. He said: "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....
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."
Big Brother Watch, meanwhile, is calling for the law to be completely overhauled to protect our privacy. It said: "Before any further surveillance legislation is considered, a comprehensive review of RIPA should be undertaken."
So what do you think? Let us know in the comments,