The Wimbledon Guardian reports on yet another UK town, this time Merton Council, using anti-terror laws “to snoop on residents, for petty offences ranging from breaching smoking bans to fly-tipping, 39 times since 2006.”
The revelation has sparked criticism from civil liberty groups, but the council insists the controversial use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), dubbed the “snoopers charter”, has been sparing, and is being reviewed. […]
Information released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed covert cameras were used on 26 occasions.
Readers will remember numerous posts about this issue. 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: “Easington council put a resident’s garden under camera surveillance after a complaint from neighbours about noise.”
In November, the Daily Mail reported, “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.”
Also, in May 2008, 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.”
A year ago, 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.”