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The Grim Ripa: Local councils authorising 11 covert surveillance operations a day

New research conducted by Big Brother Watch – the non-partisan grassroots campaign fighting intrusions on our privacy and freedom – reveals that councils in Great Britain have authorised over 8,500 RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) operations in the past two years

To read the full report – The Grim Ripa – including a complete break-down of authorisations by councils in the periods 2008-09 and 2009-10, please click this link

Top lines from the report include:

  • 372 local authorities in Great Britain have conducted RIPA surveillance operations in 8,575 cases since 1st April 2008
  • Councils alone have carried out over eleven surveillance operations every day in England, Scotland and Wales over the past two years
  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the worst local authority in the country for RIPA investigations, having spied on their residents 231 times in two years. West Berkshire and Walsall follow closely behind with 228 and 215 authorisations respectively since 1st April 2008.
  • Authorities have used covert surveillance for reasons including spying on their own employees, dog fouling, people breaking the smoking ban and even the test purchase of a puppy!

Research conducted by Big Brother Watch has revealed that 372 local councils in England, Scotland and Wales have authorised 8,575 Directed Surveillance and Covert Human Intelligence Source authorisations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and RIPSA in the period 1st April 2008 – 31st March 2010. Dividing the total number of authorisations (8,575) by the number of days (730), this is the equivalent of councils authorising over 11 covert surveillance operations a day in the past two years.

In the coalition document released last week, the new government pledged to "ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime." Although Big Brother Watch welcome a restriction on the use of RIPA, we believe that councils should not have these powers at all. If an alleged wrongdoing is serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it should be investigated by the police. Our research has found that innocent people have been placed under surveillance for minor crimes ranging from littering and dog fouling to smoking in a public place.

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:

"Now that the absurd and excessive use of RIPA surveillance has been revealed, these powers have to be taken away from Councils. The Coalition Government plan to force councils to get warrants before snooping on us is good, but doesn’t go far enough. If the offence is serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it should be in the hands of the police."

To read the full report – The Grim Ripa - including a complete break-down of authorisations by councils in the periods 2008-09 and 2009-10, please click this link

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home

40 Responses to The Grim Ripa: Local councils authorising 11 covert surveillance operations a day

  1. Purlieu

    Giving a stick to the bully, then being surprised when he hits you with it

  2. Paul Quanstrom

    Just heard an interview on R4 about the above; totally on the side of BBW. I work for a LA and some of my colleagues are hell bent on using RIPA to deal with utter trivia. I am in the front line of nuisance etc enforcement and have never and will never resort to this. It is about proportionality as your chap stated which Council’s consistently get wrong. I believe it stems from a complete misunderstanding about the term ‘enforcement’; council officers see that we can ‘nick’ people with certain legislation and automatically go to that extreme without considering their enforcement policies, if indeed they have any. It is all about graduated enforcement; if you suspect someone of comitting a minor offence then confront them with it; it’s quite simple. It works for us and saves an inordinate amount of time dealing with these issues.

  3. Imogen Mann

    Working in LG myself, my boss (a scheme manager) is obsessed with trying to emulate the police, and has ordered us ‘Head-cam’s’ for use patrolling the town and is another one who’s sole aim in life seems to be the use of covert surveillance, simply because he himself can not do the job we are paid to do (and is also too busy having an extramarital affair in work time to conduct any proper investigations).

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    Xxxxx

  5. Diane

    Where’s a list of what my council’s been wasting money on?
    10 – Noise nuisance investigations 1 – Fraud investigations 2 – Consumer protection investigations 2 – Licensing investigations 8 – Waste investigations
    Was one of the consumer protection cases the failed kitchen one? That cost an arm and a leg!

  6. tony cree

    use the head cam to catch ya tw@t of a boss out – he must be breakin’ some sort of term or condition of his employment … a bit of his own medicine’ll cure him …lol

  7. Anon

    I work in trading standards, and use RIPA.
    The bit that gets me is this – if I refused to follow up leads because of fear of breaching the suspects right to privacy, the same people who slate me for snooping would just slate me about ‘the criminal rights act’ instead!
    I can’t win, but I’ll probably be back in the private sector within a year anyway by the looks of things. To be honest I’ll be bloody glad to see the back of local government.

  8. R Harris

    Alex Deane says, “If the offence is serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it should be in the hands of the police”. I have some sympathy with this. However offences that councils have to deal with include benefit fraud which carries up to 10 years jail. Have we enough police to take on these investigations? I hope so. Also please note fly-tipping carries 5 years jail. The police here do deal with it, but pass details to council. Using surveillance for litter and dog fouling is not proportionate, but for these “police should be doing it” offences, it is.

  9. Vimax

    If I banned to chase up leads because of abhorrence of breaching the suspects appropriate to privacy, the aforementioned bodies who slate me for concern would aloof slate me about ‘the bent rights act’ instead!

  10. CliveL

    I work for a Social Landlord. So the next time an elderly resident tells me that she is being terrorised in her home by yobs, who break her windows and abuse her, that she can’t identify, do I tell her that she’ll have to put up with it or ring the Police because we shouldn’t abuse these poor young peoples ‘human rights’ by gathering evidence to deal with them? Mind you, if we can identify them, we can always warn them when we’re using CCTV so they don’t get caught!
    In an earlier comment Diane says that her council were wasting money dealing with noise nuisance complaints. Will she still be saying that if her neighbour decides to play loud music all night, keeping her awake? With noise monitoring equipment running at over £6k a set I’m sure her council would rather be dealing with other things too. The money could go towards a street warden or council officer for every street in the country to make sure they can gather evidence of anti-social behaviour. Of course it’s unlikely that the anti-social elements will do anything when they know they’re being watched and will wait till they leave.
    Other than asking people to tell the truth about their ‘crimes’ can anyone suggest how else we might gather evidence? (p.s. suggesting permanently mounted overt CCTV is not allowed as an answer. Not only is it cost prohibitive but it would attract even more attention from sites like this).
    Innocent people have nothing to fear from surveillance in public.

  11. Vugrz

    if you suspect someone of comitting a minor offence then confront them with it; it’s quite simple. It works for us and saves an inordinate amount of time dealing with these issues.

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    Hold on your own accountable to get a increased common than everyone else expects of you. By no means excuse oneself. Thank You. .

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  17. tonyliao

    I work for a Social Landlord. So the next time an elderly resident tells me that she is being terrorised in her home by yobs, who break her windows and abuse her, that she can’t identify, do I tell her that she’ll have to put up with it or ring the Police because we shouldn’t abuse these poor young peoples ‘human rights’ by gathering evidence to deal with them? Mind you, if we can identify them, we can always warn them when we’re using CCTV so they don’t get caught!
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  18. Thinning Hair Women

    who is big brother anyway?

  19. Anon

    I also work for a Trading Standards department and the changes in RIPA will either
    1) cost us more time and expense in getting authorisation from a magistrates.
    2) lead to us not bothering to do stuff where a RIPA is required.
    To give a simple example, if someone complains that a car dealer is seller a clocked car one way to find out quickly how they are describing the car would be to phone them up as a customer and ask. This sort of behaviour will require a trip the magistrates. So chances are it won’t be dealt with.

  20. Anon

    And to add to my last comment… yes they could move all these functions to the Police but all that would involve is the Polcie recruiting lots of old Council staff – or not bothering to do the type of work the Council do (which will be unacceptable).
    The likes of Trading Standards/Environmental Health/Benefit Fraud etc all do specialised law roles with knowledge of specific laws. I very much doubt general Police officers wnat to be lumbered with the requirement to learn lots of extra pieces of legislation.

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    They probably insure that tax payers cough up the popcorn money as well. They are confused into believing that the surveliance systems are for their amusements. That is why there is no real policy work carried out anymore. No bobies on the street. They are watching surveliance at the back offices.

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  36. geojoil

    There is nothing new here. Governments and councils have been doing these things long before RIPA or anything else existed, and guess what, they will continue to exist, just under a different name. This is the press and the new government trying to stir up the public, trying to make it look like the previous government was doing something wrong, that they are going to change this by doing something new, but they are not. So just move along and forget about it, as nothing is going to change apart from like I said the name that they call it.

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  39. Davidbryan39uk

    Any problems the council may have with the individual/Individuals should first merit a warning letter if only reported by witnesses then if it continues another letter stating that the offense does merit surveillance by the police after obtaining a court certified warrant and another thing I wanted to is what about tresspass violations the council took when monitoring some of these individuals Not even the partment of health and social security (department of works and pensions now) and they have special surveillance teams can follow a potential dole cheat or other fraud offender without a warrant. The whole things smacks of big brother bullying mentality and when it was shown the individuals privacy rights were violated, That individual should of made a claim against the council for its ilegle activty.

    Dave Buzzey B Bryan

  40. Ian Watson

    Dorset lied because they had one on me for “child protection” whilst I was fighting for custody of my grandson, it is a very dirty and very corrupt council.

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