Sunday, June 1, 2008

“It’s all part of the increasing surveillance state.”

From May 31, 2008

Terror law turns thousands of council officials into spies

Relatively junior council officials are giving permission for operations to spy on people

Relatively junior council officials are giving permission for operations to spy on people

Thousands of middle managers in local councils are being authorised to spy on people suspected of petty offences using powers designed to prevent crime and terrorism.

Even junior council officials are being allowed to initiate surveillance operations in what privacy campaigners likened to Eastern bloc police tactics.

The Home Office is expected to be urged by the Commons Home Affairs select committee to issue guidelines to councils on the type of operations in which surveillance can be used.

Amid increasing concern in Parliament that the UK is slowly becoming a surveillance society, the committee has looked at the operation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which some MPs say is being misused to focus on petty crime rather than serious offending.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, told The Times: “I am personally shocked by the numbers involved in surveillance by the local authorities. It is important we make sure there is proper accountability and transparency in the way this operates.” The committee, which has concluded an investigation into the surveillance society and is to publish its report in eight days’ time, is understood to have been concerned at the lack of guidance from central government to local authorities on how powers under the Act should be used.

Councils are increasingly allowing anyone of a “service manager” grade rather than high-ranking officials with a legal background to authorise surveillance operations. Relatively junior council officials are giving permission for operations to spy on people, their homes, obtain their telephone records and discover who they are e-mailing.

“A lot of councils are making the proactive decision to use these powers more,” a spokesman for Lacors, the central body that oversees local authorities, said.

“They think it’s a fantastic tool. Inevitably, more middle-management staff will be called on to authorise surveillance.”

Tens of thousands of service managers work in hundreds of councils throughout Britain and many have less than three years’ experience.

Gus Hosein, of the campaign group Privacy International, said: “The tactics of local authorities are more like the behaviour of the Stasi.”

Last year, councils and government departments made 12,494 applications for “directed surveillance”, according to figures released by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. This was almost double the number for the previous year. Applications from police and other law enforcement agencies fell during the same period, to about 19,000. Councils have admitted using the Act to spy on people committing minor offences such as fly-tipping, failing to pick up dog mess, and littering.

Human rights lawyers and Liberty, the civil liberties pressure group, last night condemned the widespread use of the Act by councils to deal with minor offending. Quincy Whitaker, a human rights barrister who has advised the police on the Act, said that the way that it is being used risks breaching the Government’s Human Rights Act.

“I would say that a majority of these applications are potentially illegal,” she said. “Most don’t seem proportionate — there are probably less intrusive ways of investigating dog fouling, for instance.

“There seems to be a widespread disregard for whether such snooping is necessary.”

Referring to Poole Council, where council workers had spied on a family they suspected of living in the wrong school catchment area, Ms Whitaker said: “Poole would have to show that there was no other way of investigating the abuse.

“It’s hard to believe that spying on a family was necessary, in which case it breached their right to privacy under the Human Rights Act.”

She added: “The Act has moved away from its original purpose, which was to help fight terrorism and serious crime. The way it’s been expanded is ridiculous. All these petty officials now have quite extraordinary powers. There’s great potential for abuse.”

Thousands of people may have been spied on or had their e-mail accounts accessed without their knowledge — and were never likely to know, Ms Whitaker said.

“One of the most worrying things is that people wouldn’t usually find out they had been spied on unless the council brought a prosecution against them,” she said.

“Spying by councils is just assumed to be the norm. It seems we’ve given up these freedoms to stop our streets being covered in dog s***.

“It’s all part of the increasing surveillance state.”

James Welch, legal director at Liberty, called on the Government to implement safeguards against abuse. “Rather than being authorised by bureaucrats ‘in-house’ such methods should only be used when they have been approved by a judge,” he said.

The Lacors spokesman said that officials had received no central training on the use of Ripa since 2003. “About 1,500 council officers attended a day’s workshop,” he said. “There hasn’t been anything since but we’re trying to set something up now.”

He said that training on human rights issues generally took place within the council. “There’s a bit of inconsistency,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to nail down now. Councils need every bit of help they can get to make difficult judgment calls.

“The legislation was originally designed for terrorism,” he admitted. “Councils could benefit from further guidance.”

The power of councils to conduct surveillance has expanded greatly since Ripa was passed in 2000. In 2003 they were given the right to obtain phone and internet records, techniques that had been reserved for the police and security services.

Obviously Councils have too many idle hands if they can waste manpower resources on this nonsense.

George, Glasgow,

Time for Labour to leave Government. We have become a big brother society under Mr Bean and he loves it!

Ian, Bristol, UK

RIPA surveillance should NOT be available for deployment by junior Council Officials, It should be sanctioned only by court order. The Act is to liberal in it's interpretation. It is contrary to human rights and should be repealed forthwith. (No Chance says taxalator Gordon)

Rob, Colwyn Bay, Conwy

Soon they'll have you spying on yourselves.

jayil, london, uk

Common Purpose up to its usual tricks.

John, norwich,

This also raises the question of information applied for by councils or other bodies under the Ripa act being then passed on to the police without a formal audit trail.

Ian, Maidstone,

Instead of being shocked, its time these overpaid rubber stamp M.P's earned their money. The way things are moving there could be civil disorder in this country as a result of all this enforced socialist/ marxist dogma which passes for government anti terrorism. Labour could be finished, for good.

Phil de Buquet, Newport, England

Councils have become servants of themselves and not the public. They have forgotten their proper role, and now concerntrate in the creation of their own kingdoms.
Three terms of any government at national level will always cause extremes and what you see in Britain now is the result of exactly that

Andy B, London, UK

This is more shoe-horning us into the EUSSR under their rules once the Lisbon treatitution is fully up and running. Take a look at eutruth if you dare.

SO, Oxfordshire,

I personally don't believe most of this story.

"Councils have admitted using the Act to spy on people committing minor offences such as fly-tipping, failing to pick up dog mess, and littering."

So they will go through phone records and emails to see when you talk letting your dog poo!?

Andrew, Newcastle,

National security is , of course, of paramount importance, but this James Bond-style espionage and spying on your own people is a bit too much.
Do you distrust us so much, New Labour?
Britain is fast turning into a country not unlike those of the former Warsaw Pact.

Dilip Dhokia, Bradford, UK

This government turned police officers into bean counters,and bin men into spies. . . What the hell is going on!!

Steve, abergavenny,

People have nothing to hide - but all people have things they're embarrassed with or protecting the innocent.
- you have a medical condition. if it leaked out it could be embarrassing or say cost you your job (yes its illegal - but its not so easy to prove)
- you have kids lives exposed to stranger

phelix, London, United Kingdom

It's of course a lie to say that parliament is concerned - they are the people who took away people's right to self-defence, and instituted the police state.
By the way I am loving it here in the antipodes.

Ralph, Sydney, Australia

Local officials spying, car number plate recording and therefore movement tracking, CCTV introduced for youth crime now used for parking and who knows what else, soft data stored about employees of companies who employ workers under 18 in addition to police checks(WWC). New Labour, New Stazi

Alan, London, England

During the opening broadcast of the (1945) election campaign, Winston Churchill astonished many of his admirers by warning that a Labour government would introduce into Britain "some form of Gestapo, no doubt humanely administered in the first instance". (Ref Wikipedia)

Albert, Paris,

I consider this an intrusion of civil liberties and Data Protection under the Europen Human rights act regarding the right to privacy. Therefore ALL these service managers are at risk of legal action against them under peeping toms harrasment -and invasion of privacy laws and their council chiefs.

Chris, Bonnes, France

Isnt it funny.

We used to wonder how people could be subjected to Socialist social control in Eastern Europe. The Stazi, the people who spied on their neigbours, people sacked for holding the "wrong" political views, the denunciations and show trials.

In Labours Britain - I now know.

Geoff , Birmingham, England

Can we stop saying that anti-terorist laws are being abused please. These laws were introduced for precisely this purpose; to spy on and gather information on the citizens of this country, just like every other piece of Labour legislation is.

Robert, Wigan, Great Britain

I thought that council employees were servants of the electorate. Carrying out surveillance sounds as though they do not have proper work to do. Following and watching people with intent is a criminal offence I believe. How do we know these fellows wont abuse their powers for own nefarious gain??

Boris, Belgravia, London

It's downright hypocrisy to speak of "concern in Parliament". That's exactly where all these tyrannical, unjust laws come from! It is Parliament that makes the laws - the government merely proposes them. If a majority of MPs disapproved of it, such a bill would never become law.

Tom Welsh, Basingstoke,

"Amid increasing concern in Parliament that the UK is slowly becoming a surveillance society"

Slowly? At the gallop, more like it.

David Gillies, San Jose, Costa Rica

I am surprised that they don't need CRB checks to do this, after all they are indirectly involved with children.
The amount of money they waste doing this, when they could be doing more useful things, like mending the numerous potholes in the roads for example.

Nathan James, Liverpool, UK

"wrong school area: “Poole would have to show there was no other way of investigating"" Even if there WAS no other way! We have to let some crimes go beause detection is too intrusive! There may be "no other way" of checking for wife beating, but we don't routinely have cameras in every room.

Graham Rounce, London, UK

What on earth does a local council official think that he/she is going to discover from my phone/internet records that is in any way relevant to his/her function? Is there not some judicial oversight of this activity? Who drafts legislation such as this?

Steve, Argyll,

John Pickworth, Robert Everitt, Bob Evans and Will - your 'subversive comments will no doubt arise suspicion in council officers' minds. Unless you have something to hide why are you worried. This needs investigating !!

Anthony, London,

Welcome to the Blair legacy: being clocked by cameras several times a day, tracked through numberplate recognition technology, phone tapping and various watch schemes. Add the God knows how many new laws passed to strengthen the power of the state -stuff old Jo Stalin must have dreamed about

ray cobbett, Emsworth, England

Crime and terror laws are for the police. Not council!

Hello UK! or should we change the name to USSR?

How about making Scotland full of Gulags?

Richard, London,

A golden opportunity for under-employed council officials to get out of the office on nice hot summer days.

The number of surveillance operations is bound to increase during good weather. Why sit behind a desk when you can follow someone through the park? Expenses might include an ice cream!

Des, Edinburgh,

On top of this the government is planning to have details of all individual phone calls, emails and web site visits stored. Plus they want to collect even more personal data for identity cards. It will give the Government powers that the Stasi and KGB could only dream of.

Ron, Cambridge,

I give it 5 minutes before the "nothing to hide" brigade surfaces.

These powers were originally "sold" to us to "protect" us against "terrorism". Yea right.... terrorists with a chihuahua and isnt afraid to use it to foul your lawn...

Casey, England, UK

And the U.K. has the nerve to criticize other countries for being un-democratic........

nick, pentakomo, cyprus

"Amid increasing concern in Parliament that the UK is slowly becoming a surveillance society"

I know Parliament is slow and clunky but it's time for them to come to terms with the fact that we are living in a surveillance society today!

Tony, Hull,

The right of privacy far outweighs the right to evade privacy - Councils should not be given this much power in the first place - There job is to provide basic services, not to abuse a law created to monitor and prosecute known terrorist - I don't think this applies to fly-tippers - Insanity reigns!

WTaylor, London, UK

Labour know no other way than the authoritarian, centralised, command and control culture they've been building for 10 years. It's time for a change.

Ian, London, UK

Yet something else that Cameron should be shouting about. Difficult days, a pitiful Government and a weak Opposition.

Roger, Surrey.,

The ever increasing cost of the war on terror.

Sebastien, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

This is utterly and totally disgusting... how the hell did we get to this?

Gordon Brown should be called to Parliament first thing Monday morning to give an immediate statement and explain how this spying is good for the people of the nation.

John Pickworth, Blackpool, UK

"The legislation was originally designed for terrorism".
Now perhaps we can see where detention without trial for 42 days will lead.Now "targets"are seen for what they become,an end in themselves, we can begin to appreciate another phrase - mission creep.These genies do not re- bottle themselves.

robert everitt, wolverhampton,

Government and Parliament together have an easy solution at hand if and only if they have the intestinal fortitude to assert it. Simply pass pass an amending Act denying local government to powers of Ripa. Or at the very least, create a body akin to the D-Notice committee to approve such action.

Bob Evans, Anaheim, California

Well done new labour, youve turned the local council into the Stasi

will, grimsby, uk

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