Bin snooper powers of entry binned

Eric Pickles may not have the most glamorous job in Westminster, but he has delivered an early Christmas present for civil liberties campaigners.

The last Labour Government changed the law to give local authorities powers, originally intended for the Environment Agency to tackle serious fly-tipping, to go through people’s bins. Now the Secretary of State for Local Government has announced that no longer will council inspectors have the right to enter your property and rifle through your bin.

This power of entry, along with a few others (including the suspicion of unregulated hypnotists and the sale of German property) were scrapped as part of the Protection of Freedoms Act.

It’s no surprise to Big Brother Watch that the Secretary of State for Local Government is leading the charge against these excessive and unaccountable powers, hundreds of which were introduced by the last Government. Earlier in the year he wrote the foreword to our report ‘A legacy of surveillance’ saying:

“It is important that the public can have faith that surveillance powers are being used only in those situations where serious crimes are taking place and when there are no less intrusive alternative routes of investigation. That’s why we need robust accountability of all state bodies, not just local authorities, to ensure these state powers are not used without proper justification, and I welcome Big Brother Watch’s continuing scrutiny and challenge.”

In March, Home Office minister James Brokenshire told Parliament in the two years following the election 19 new powers of entry had been “created or amended” by the Coalition. That’s on top of the roughly 1400 powers already on the statute book. There are an estimated 20,000 officials, many working for councils and quangos, who are able to use the powers.

There is much more to do – and the Home Office’s review of these powers is not due to report until 2014, hardly the sign of an urgent review – but credit is due for at least making a start.

The Coalition is rightly taking action and this is an important first step. We hope other ministers join Eric Pickles in pressing ahead with these important changes to protect our privacy and liberty at home.