Government issue warning to Town Hall CCTV

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has vowed to stop councils using CCTV to spy on staff, Yourmaidstone reports.

A survey has revealed that town halls are regularly bugged and secret cameras are used to monitor employees.

Maidstone council was one of the authorities named by a national newspaper as using CCTV to gather evidence against a worker suspected of having an “inappropriate” relationship.

But in the wake of this revelation the Home Secretary has announced she plans to tighten the rules on councils’ use of CCTV to only use it to tackle serious crime and terrorism, rather than minor offences.

The Daily Mail last week claimed that council bosses are using the controversial tactics to gather evidence of workplace theft and inappropriate relationships.

The newspaper said documents obtained using the Freedom of Information Act showed Maidstone council had “spied on an employee it suspected was having an inappropriate relationship with a local housing landlord.”

In response to the claim a council spokeswoman said: “The investigation, which included an inspection of the officer’s emails, concerned a financial matter. We found that there was no case to answer.”

But a former council employee, who did not want to be named, said: “I think this is pushing the boundaries of privacy and it’s not nice to think that you are being monitored in your work place.”

Privacy campaigners have hit out at the methods describing it as “disgusting” and that they “would make the KGB nervous”.

Director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, told the newspaper: “It’s difficult to understand how councils can justify the use of staff time and scarce resources on some of these extravagant surveillance operations.”

Councils are able to use methods such as concealed CCTV under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2002.

The regulation allows officials to use such tactics when preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of economic well-being.

But the tightening of the rules Ms Smith is proposing would mean in future only chief executives and senior officials will be able to use the Act’s powers to spy on employees and only if serious offences are suspected.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, told The Times: “This consultation is a tacit admission by the Government that its surveillance society has got out of hand.

“For too long, powers we were told would be used to fight terrorism and organised crime have been used to spy on people’s kids, pets and bins.

“Surveillance powers should only be used to investigate serious crimes and must require a magistrate’s warrant.”