BBC and Royal Mail 'using Ripa terror powers to spy on public'

Corporations criticised for refusing to reveal what data they hold

A senior Cabinet minister has launched a strong attack on public bodies – including the BBC and the Royal Mail –that have powers to carry out secret surveillance on members of the public but are refusing to say how they're using them.

Under controversial legislation, a range of public bodies have the authority to demand that phone companies hand over records of calls, secretly follow people without their knowledge and record their movements.

But despite an attempt by ministers to clamp down on misuse of the powers, seven well-known organisations refused to provide details of their activities under the controversial Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (Ripa), dubbed the "snoopers charter".

Their silence has been highlighted in a report by the campaign group Big Brother Watch and also criticised by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who hinted that the Government could extend regulations, brought in for local authorities using Ripa powers, which would require them to get permission from a magistrate before being allowed to conduct surveillance.

"For public bodies, funded by and working for the taxpayer, to be using Ripa yet so vociferously trying to avoid accountability is simply unacceptable," he wrote in a foreword to the report. "Only in those situations where serious crimes are taking place and when there are no less intrusive alternative routes of investigation [should the powers be used]. That's why we need robust accountability of all state bodies, not just local authorities, to ensure these state powers are not used without proper justification."

The report highlighted the seven public authorities that refused to disclose why or how often they have used their powers under Ripa to carry out covert surveillance.

These included the BBC, which is thought to use it for TV licensing infringement, the Prison Service, the Office of Fair Trading, the Royal Mail, UK Trade and Investment and the schools watchdog Ofsted.

The report also detailed how between 2009 and 2011 local authorities used the powers more than 9,600 times, before the Government changed the law requiring them to seek a magistrate's approval. Among the cases highlighted was Suffolk County Council, which was said to have used Ripa to make test purchases of a puppy. Stockton Borough Council was said to have used the powers for investigations into a fraudulent escort agency and the movement of pigs, while a variety of councils used the legislation to try to catch fly-tippers on 550 occasions.

Twenty-six local authorities used Ripa to spy on dog owners to see whose animals they believed to be responsible for dog fouling, while seven used their powers to investigate suspected breaches of the smoking ban.

The BBC confirmed that TV Licensing did use Ripa but declined to give further details so as not to prejudice law enforcement. Ofsted and Royal Mail said they were aware of the report but declined to comment further.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...