The Mail has the latest in a string of stories out of the UK about misuse of anti-terrorism laws to investigate residents for clearly non-terrorism related offenses.
More than half of town halls admit using anti-terror laws to spy on families suspected of putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.
Their tactics include putting secret cameras in tin cans, on lamp posts and even in the homes of ‘friendly’ residents. […]
The shocking way in which the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – an anti-terror law – is being used was revealed through freedom of information requests made by the Daily Mail. […]
The Mail requested information from all of the 474 councils in England. Of the 151 which replied, some 77 – more than half – said they had used the legislation in the last three years for suspected ‘domestic waste, littering or fly-tipping offences’.
Although it is ostensibly an anti-terror law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, or RIPA, is worded so loosely that it can be used to justify surveillance operations for a variety of reasons.
In September, the Telegraph UK reported what it learned from its freedom of information requests. It showed a disturbing trend of local councils using the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to track or prosecute minor offenses, such as littering. Among the investigations conducted under powers conferred by the anti-terrorism law:
- Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council used it to deal with 16 complaints about barking dogs. […]
- Poole Council used it to detect illegal fishing in Poole Harbour. […]
- Easington council put a resident’s garden under camera surveillance after a complaint from neighbours about noise.
In July, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner criticized local councils’ actions in a report (pdf). He said some councils displayed “a serious misunderstanding of the concept of proportionality. It is not acceptable, for example, to judge, that because directed surveillance is being conducted from a public place, this automatically renders the activity overt or to assert that an activity is proportionate because it is the only way to further an investigation.”
Also, I blogged about misuse of the anti-terrorism laws in May when it was revealed that the Poole Borough Council conducted surveillance on “fishermen, vandals and a family suspected of living in the wrong school catchment area.”