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
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy