Increasing use of council surveillance powers

phone.jpgSurveillance powers which allow local authorities to follow people and access their phone records have been used by Northamptonshire County Council 10 times in the past year.


Legislation brought in by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) means councils and police forces can use “covert human intelligence sources”, for example, following suspected criminals. They can also demand to see bills and phone records.

Figures released through the Freedom of Information Act showed the county council had used the powers 10 times in the past 12 months.

MP Brian Binley (Con, Northampton South), who is also a member of the county council, condemned the powers and demanded to know what reasons the authority had for the surveillance.

He said: “These powers would have been unacceptable in many Eastern European countries 30 years ago.

“To my mind, if someone has broken the law, the people who should do this sort of work are the police and no-one else. It worries me deeply and I would hope it worries every other law-abiding person in the county.

“I would have to ask what sort of society we are creating. It is totally unacceptable and I would like to know who gave permission for this private-eye attitude, and whether it was cleared by political leadership.”

In the past year, seven requests were made by the council to have access to someone’s bills or phone records, while three cases of physical surveillance have taken place.

The council has not yet released the reasons behind the applications.

Liz Tavener (Con, New Duston), the county council’s cabinet member for community safety, said she trusted the authority’s ability to use the powers properly.

She said: “I have no doubt at all the council is using the powers sensibly and I’m sure people have nothing to be concerned about.

“I would be worried about these kinds of powers if it was discovered they were being used not in the spirit of the law.”

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was originally designed to combat terrorism and allows councils and police forces to catch rogue traders, fly-tippers and off-licences which sell alcohol to children under the age of 18.

©2008 Johnston Press Digital Publishing