Curbs planned on councils' surveillance

Councils will face restrictions on the use of covert surveillance measures to stop them targeting "trivial" offences, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said today.

Local officials have been condemned as "Bin Stasi" for using the powers to target people who put their bins out on the wrong day or let their dogs foul in the street.

Councillors or senior officials might in future be required to approve their use, under plans set out in a review of changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPA) Act.

RIPA powers have been criticised as an extension of the "surveillance state". Councils were found to be using them to investigate parents accused of lying about where they live to get their children in to better schools.

The Tories have called for the use of the powers to be restricted to offences that carry a prison sentence.

Ms Smith said it was right that they could be used for combating fly-tipping and rogue traders as well as serious crime and terror.

She said: "Our country has a proud tradition of individual freedom. This involves freedom from unjustified interference by the State.

"But it also includes freedom from interference by those who would do us harm.

"The Government is responsible for protecting both types of freedom. In order to do this, we must ensure that the police and other public authorities have the powers they need. But we must also ensure that those powers are not used inappropriately or excessively.

"The Government has absolutely no interest in spying on law-abiding people going about their everyday lives. I don't want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day or for dog fouling offences.

"I also want to make sure that there is proper oversight of the use of these powers, which is why I am considering creating a role for elected councillors in overseeing the way in which local authorities use RIPA techniques."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said the Government had allowed RIPA to become "a snooper's charter".

"It was supposed to be there to tackle terrorism and serious crime.

"Instead it's being used by both the Government and hundreds of local authorities to pry into all kinds of different parts of people's lives. It has to stop."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said the consultation was "a tacit admission by the Government that its surveillance society has got out of hand".

"For too long, powers we were told would be used to fight terrorism and organised crime have been used to spy on people's kids, pets and bins.

"Surveillance powers should only be used to investigate serious crimes and must require a magistrate's warrant."

Councillor Hazel Harding, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's (LGA's) Safer Communities Board, said the powers were being used to respond to residents' complaints about fly-tippers, rogue traders and people defrauding the benefits system.

"Time and again, these are just the type of crimes that residents tell councils they want to see tackled. Without these powers, it wouldn't be possible to provide the level of reassurance and protection local people demand and deserve."

She said the LGA's advice to councils was that it was inappropriate to use the powers for less serious matters except in the most unusual and extreme circumstances.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker visited Nottinghamshire County Council yesterday to see how the legislation has been used to catch rogue traders.

Mr Coaker said the review was about "reassuring the public that these powers are used properly" and "trying to make sure the line is drawn in the right place".

"They are a powerful crime-fighting tool but there are also concerns about privacy and we need to get the balance right."

Local Government Minister John Healey, who was also in Nottingham yesterday, said he wrote to councils last year telling them the system needed to be tightened up to restore public confidence.

"This consultation is a chance for people to give us their views about how these powers are used.

"Councils do not have as many of these powers as the police but they do have a serious job to do in dealing with things like fly- tipping and criminal damage that cause people a lot of grief."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine