Councils across Scotland have used anti-terrorism powers to spy on their own residents hundreds of times – but just a handful of surveillance operations have led to prosecutions.
Over the past five years, local authorities have used covert surveillance to investigate suspected cases of benefit fraud, anti-social behaviour and even littering, but only around one in 20 cases lead to possible prosecution.
As part of our special investigation this week, The Courier can reveal that – unless a prosecution arises – residents are never told they were put under surveillance. Local authorities are also under no obligation to record the reason surveillance was carried out.
Councils can use directed surveillance, such as CCTV, to target individuals as well as covert human intelligent sources (CHIS), such as undercover officers or public informants, to carry out investigations.
Emma Carr, from civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, is calling on councils to be more open about how they use surveillance powers.
She said: ”It is important that councils begin to publish some details on their surveillance operations, for example how many are pursued each year and for what offences, so the public can have faith that the powers are being used responsibly.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ”All public authorities which are able to authorise activity under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 are subject to regular inspection by the independent Office of Surveillance Commissioners.
”These inspections ensure that the use of the act by all relevant public authorities is both necessary and proportionate.”
A COSLA spokesman said: ”The use of surveillance cameras is an operational matter for individual local authorities who best know the needs and requirements of their own areas.”