How Scarborough council uses its ‘spying’ powers

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CONTROVERSIAL powers have allowed Scarborough Council to “spy” on residents suspected of criminal acts on more than a dozen occasions over the past few years, it has been revealed.

Information obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows the council have used powers obtained through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 to monitor suspects.

In the 18 times the council has used the act since 2005, it has been used to investigate residents suspected of crimes such as metal theft and anti-social behaviour.

The council has even attempted to use the act to carry out surveillance on a member of its own staff. However, this request was rejected by the court.

In the vast majority of cases launched by the council they have used their own staff to ‘snoop’ on residents. CCTV has also been used.

The act, which has come under repeated fire from civil liberty groups, was introduced in 2000 to help fight terrorism and crime.

It allows public bodies to carry out surveillance on people and also allows them to intercept communications.

A spokesperson for civil liberty group Liberty blasted Scarborough Council over the disclosure, accusing the authority of abusing its power and misusing the act for “trivial matters”.

“Covert surveillance can be a vital tool for fighting serious crime and terrorism but currently far too many public bodies are able to self-authorise the use of RIPA’s intrusive snooping powers for relatively trivial matters,” the spokesperson said.

“The law needs tightening up – so that serious State surveillance cannot be used and abused.”

The information, which is available to read on the Scarborough Council website, shows that the council has used the act to monitor people suspected of metal theft, domestic violence, theft from a council building and anti-social behaviour.

The vast majority of cases, however, were for deception.

In 14 of the cases listed, the authority used in-house investigative auditors to carry out the surveillance, and in most cases, around one month was spent monitoring suspects.

In one case, six months was spent in total monitoring two suspects, an operation that resulted in ASBOs being issued to two individuals.

Every case was launched by the council on grounds of “preventing crime”. All but two of the council’s applications were granted.

Scarborough Council declined to comment on the matter, instead highlighting Section 8 of the act’s policy, which states an application should be made for surveillance when “covert surveillance is the only feasible way to collect relevant evidence”.