Council forced to rein in surveillance of residents

While the Ham&High was snooping through council documents this week, a batch of figures popped out showing its use of controversial surveillance laws on residents had dropped rather dramatically in recent years.

Since the arrival of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), or RIPA, local authorities had been jumping at the chance to keep an eye on their citizens, “for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder”.

Whether they’re suspected of parking misdemeanors, benefit fraud, antisocial behaviour, or a “misuse of resources”, surveillance had started to become a go-to policy for Camden Council.

Figures show that between 2002 and 2005, its applications to spy on residents rose from 13 to 36.

The next four years saw a dramatic jump, reaching a height of 83 in 2007. Most were for what it deemed “antisocial behaviour”.

Practices typically include covert tailing, secret photography and using hidden cameras.

But while they defended its use, there was a feeling local authorities like Camden Council were getting too much of a feel for hiding in the bushes.

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