|Half of councils use anti-terror laws to spy on 'bin crimes'
More than half of councils are using anti-terror laws to spy on families suspected of "bin crimes", it has emerged.
Telegraph | November 1, 2008
Their surveillance tactics include hiding secret cameras on streets and even in neighbouring homes to catch householders putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.
Seventy-seven of the 151 councils who responded to a Freedom of Information request admitted using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to crack down on "domestic waste, littering or fly-tipping offences" in the last three years.
Last month The Sunday Telegraph disclosed that three-quarters of local authorities had used the act – which was introduced to help the police fight terrorism and crime in 2000 - to tackle minor misdemeanours.
The Act allows public bodies – since expanded to include councils – to place residents and businesses under surveillance, trace telephone and email accounts and even send staff on undercover missions.
Councils are also using the Act to tackle dog fouling, the unauthorised sale of pizzas and even the abuse of the blue badge scheme for disabled drivers.
The Tories condemned the latest figures as further evidence that the law had become a "snooper's charter".
"Under Labour, the rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens are being eroded through plans for ID cards, sinister microchip spies in bins and abuse of anti-terror laws by councils," said Eric Pickles, the party's communities spokesman.
"Taxpayers' money is being wasted on bankrolling an army of municipal bureaucrats who have watched too many episodes of Spooks."
Some local authorities - including West Lindsey District Council in Lincolnshire and Southwark District Council in London - are using the powers to hide cameras on lamp posts, in tin cans, or even in the homes of other neighbours in order to catch people who put their rubbish bins out early.
The Daily Telegraph disclosed in September that 5,000 local residents including children as young as eight have been recruited by councils as "environment volunteers'' to snoop on neighbours and report petty offences such as dropping litter.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said that councils had been instructed to only use Ripa when "absolutely necessary".
"These powers are essential in making sure that benefits cheats, fly-tippers, rogue traders and other serious criminals are caught and brought to justice." he said.
Poole Borough Council in Dorest was one of the first local authorities to admit to using Ripa to counter minor offences. It put a family under secret surveillance for two weeks to find out if they really lived in a school's catchment area.