UK Councils to loose some spy powers

Councils to loose some spy powers: “The end for super pooper-scooper snoopers?Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has opened a public consultation on how snooping laws should be used by local authorities…”

(Via The Register – Public Sector.)

067/2009, 17 April 2009
The Consultation paper can be downloaded as a PDF file.

Plans to stop investigatory powers being used under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) for trivial purposes were announced by the Home Secretary today. The plans include a review of which public authorities can use them and proposals to raise the level of authorisation to sign them off in local authorities.

The public consultation also includes plans to cut down paperwork for the police so they are better able to fight crime.

The review of RIPA launched today will invite views on:

• which public authorities should be able to authorise key investigatory techniques, such as the use of communications data or covert surveillance in public places, under RIPA;
• the purposes for which these investigatory techniques should be used;
• the option of raising the rank of the local authority employee authorising the use of investigatory techniques to senior executive; and
• whether elected councillors should also play a role in the authorisation.

Many of the investigations that rely on the techniques regulated by RIPA are vital to protecting public safety, not just for serious crime and terrorism but they can also make a real difference to people’s everyday lives. For example by stopping rogue traders or trapping fly tippers who dump tonnes of rubbish on an industrial scale.

But there have been some cases where RIPA has been clearly misused. Last year the Home Secretary announced that the government is not prepared to see investigations under RIPA used for trivial issues, like people putting their bins out on the wrong day or dog fouling offences.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

“Our country has a proud tradition of individual freedom. This involves freedom from unjustified interference by the State. But it also includes freedom from interference by those who would do us harm.

“The government is responsible for protecting both types of freedom. In order to do this, we must ensure that the police and other public authorities have the powers they need. But we must also ensure that those powers are not used inappropriately or excessively.
“The government has absolutely no interest in spying on law-abiding people going about their everyday lives. I don’t want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day or for dog fouling offences.
“I also want to make sure that there is proper oversight of the use of these powers which is why I am considering creating a role for elected councillors in overseeing the way in which local authorities use RIPA techniques.”
The consultation includes draft Codes of Practice. These codes will replace the existing Codes of Practice on Covert Surveillance and Covert Human Intelligence Sources. They will provide greater clarity on when the use of RIPA techniques would be proportionate. They make it clear that RIPA should not be used in relation to trivial offences, and they provide examples so everyone can understand how and when these techniques should be used.
The consultation includes details about all the public authorities able to use certain techniques under RIPA, including the ranks at which those techniques can be authorised and the purposes for which they can be used.

The government wants members of the public to say whether it is appropriate for these public authorities to be part of the RIPA framework. In light of recent public concerns, the government is particularly interested in public views on the way local authorities use techniques under RIPA and how they should deal with crimes such as rogue trading or fly-tipping on an industrial scale.
Local Government Minister John Healey said:
“Whether cracking down on rogue traders, loan sharks or fly-tippers, councils are in the front line in tackling some of the toughest problems faced by communities. So it is right they have the powers they need to do this effectively.
“But these powers must be used in a way that commands the public’s confidence and should be used properly and proportionately. This consultation kicks off a clear and open debate about the use of these powers which is central to strengthening confidence in the system.”

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