Smith to crack down on councils' spy tactics

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Indy Politics

Jacqui Smith will today announce a crackdown on local authorities using surveillance powers to target trivial offences such as dog-fouling and infringements of local refuse rules.

She will use a speech in London to launch an overhaul of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs the use of surveillance and intercept evidence by bodies from the security services to police and local councils.

Some councils have faced criticism that they have mounted cameras in bins to spy on people suspected of putting out their rubbish on the wrong day, or obtained telephone records of people suspected of dropping litter.

Ms Smith, who is planning a consultation on controversial new data surveillance powers next year, will make it plain that only senior officials will be able to authorise such action. A new code of practice will limit the use of the Act to serious cases and will ensure that decisions on operations are taken only at the highest level.

Ms Smith is expected to say: "While the vast majority of the investigations that are carried out under Ripa are important – like protecting the public from dodgy traders, trapping fly tippers who dump tons of rubbish on an industrial scale across the countryside, or tackling the misery caused by noisy and disruptive neighbours – there are clearly cases where these powers should not be used.

"I don't want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day, for dog-fouling offences, or to check whether paper boys are carrying sacks that are too heavy."

Last month peers criticised the excessive use of the powers, warning that they could undermine public support for legitimate investigations.