The Telegraph UK has coverage of the disturbing trend of local councils using anti-terrorism laws to track or prosecute minor offenses, such as littering. I previously blogged about this misuse of the anti-terrorism laws 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.”
The Telegraph UK made a number of Freedom of Information requests to local town councils concerning their use of the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
Among 115 councils that responded to a Freedom of Information request, 89 admitted that they had instigated investigations under the Act. The 82 councils that provided figures said that they authorised or carried out a total of 867 RIPA investigations during the year to August
Durham county council emerged as the biggest user, with just over 100 surveillance operations launched during the period. Newcastle city council used the powers 82 times, and Middlesbrough council 70 times.
Derby council made sound recordings of a property after a complaint about noisy children.
Surveillance operations aimed at individual homes and businesses can last for months. Calderdale council in West Yorkshire began “direct covert surveillance” targeting one business in May that is still going on.
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. […]
* Peterborough Council investigated the operation of the blue badge scheme for disabled drivers.
* Poole Council used it to detect illegal fishing in Poole Harbour.
* Basingstoke Council used photographic surveillance against one of its own refuse collectors after allegations he was charging residents for a service that should be free. The operation was dropped when it was decided the allegation was false.
* Aberdeenshire Council admitted using the Scottish version of the Act to request the name and address of a mobile phone user as part of an investigation into offences under the Weights and Measures Act.
* Easington council put a resident’s garden under camera surveillance after a complaint from neighbours about noise.