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."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn