Surveillance is used 24 times by council

PUBLISHED: 13:30 07 September 2012

North Somerset Council has written to licensees about the sale of Nitrous Oxide

North Somerset Council has written to licensees about the sale of Nitrous Oxide

Archant

North Somerset Council has carried out surveillance on residents more than 20 times in three years, according to a new report.

Fly-tipping, counterfeit goods and child protection were just three of the reasons the authority used to justify using surveillance – legal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

Big Brother Watch, a group which investigates civil liberties and privacy in the UK, compiled the figures after sending Freedom Of Information Act requests to authorities across the country.

The figures reveal how North Somerset Council used RIPA 24 times between 2008 and 2011.

Four of the uses were investigating counterfeit goods, seven were for fly-tipping and one was for car-clocking. Another two were observations to see a person visiting a partner in contradiction of an order and one was an interception of communication.

One was to investigate a child protection issue with another to look into a children and young people social care issue. Five were for counterfeit tobacco and alcohol or illegal tobacco products.

Five instances of surveillance successfully led to convictions.

Somerset County Council, which covers areas including Cheddar and Burnham, used RIPA twice to carry out surveillance operations in the same timeframe.

One was to look into the ‘entry of unfit carcasses to the human food chain’ and on another occasion it granted the authority to the Metropolitan Police relating to a drug investigation.

Mendip District Council used surveillance four times, including twice for fly-tipping, once for a pollution issue and once for housing benefit protection. Sedgemoor District Council did not use the act in the timeframe.

An act introduced in May this year means authorities now have to seek a magistrate’s approval before they can use RIPA.

Big Brother Watch said in its report: “We believe it should be required that any organisation using RIPA powers should publish the nature of surveillance, the offences pursued and the number of convictions secured. This is a badly needed first step towards reform and proper transparency.”

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government, said in the report: “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.”

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