RIPA Surveillance Law Misused On Merseyside

By Andrew Brown | HUNDREDS of people across Merseyside have been under surveillance by local authorities using powers under so-called “terror laws”, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

An investigation has revealed that organisations ranging from local councils, including Sefton, to Merseytravel have used the powers created by the Government under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

The use of the laws by local councils and organisations has been described as a “snoopers’ charter” by the campaign group, Liberty, which said it was “self-authorisation by over-zealous bureaucrats”, and called for the law to be changed.

The authorities have used the laws to probe telecommunications records (phone/internet), and investigate alleged offences from abusing disabled parking badges to employees ‘failing to undertake duties’. The law, which was originally set up to combat terrorism and serious crime, allows the authorities to carry out surveillance on the public or their own employees — and many have made widespread use of it.

According to the Home Office, Ripa “legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism”.

All local authorities in and around Merseyside were asked to provide details about their use of Ripa.

Sefton Council said it would be too time-consuming to provide data any older than a year ago, but said that over the past 12 months there had been 11 cases where surveillance was authorised under Ripa.

Three were for alleged benefit fraud, two regarding fly-tipping, two related to ‘statutory noise nuisance’ with others for anti-social behaviour, taxi licences and trading standards.

The council revealed that ‘in the case of the taxi matters, on-street CCTV cameras were used and in the noise nuisance cases, recording equipment was used’.

Sefton Council said ‘a number of the surveillance operations have resulted in prosecutions’ but has not been able to provide any details of these.

Among the councils in Merseyside, Liverpool City Council appears to have used the powers most extensively, with more than 300 cases of surveillance using the Ripa legislation since 2000.

A spokesperson for Liberty said: “You don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, nor targeted surveillance to stop a litter bug.

“You can care about serious crime and terrorism without throwing away our personal privacy with a snoopers’ charter.

“The law must be reformed to require sign-off by judges, not self-authorisation by over-zealous bureaucrats.”