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Nosey councils face surveillance ban.

Summary: Councils are to be banned from using covert surveillance measures to target "trivial" offences.

Councils are to be banned from using covert surveillance measures to target "trivial" offences.

Town hall officials have been condemned for using anti-terror 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 could soon 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.

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," he said.

"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."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said it was right that surveillance 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."

[c] Independent Television News Limited 2009. All rights reserved.

[c] Independent Television News Limited 2009. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Independent Television News Limited (ITN)
Date:Apr 19, 2009
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