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Big Brother Watch slams local councils for spying’ on public

PUBLISHED: 13:05 24 May 2010 | UPDATED: 16:04 05 October 2010

LOCAL authorities have been slammed for using anti-terrorist surveillance legislation to spy’ on the public for trivial breaches of bylaws. They have carried out 8,500 covert operations in the past two years

By Mike Brooke

LOCAL authorities have been slammed for using anti-terrorist surveillance legislation to 'spy' on the public for trivial breaches of bylaws.

Some have used it for gathering evidence of criminal activity, but critics say this should be done by the police, not the town hall.

Councils have authorised 8,500 covert operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in past two years, according to 'Big Brother Watch,' a non-partisan campaign against intrusions on privacy and freedom.

The organisation found 372 authorities have conducted surveillance in nearly 8,560 cases since April, 2008.

"Innocent people have been placed under surveillance for minor things like littering, dog fouling and smoking in a public place," said its director Alex Deane. "These powers have to be taken away from local councils."

Tower Hamlets in London's East End used the powers 59 times, mainly to gather evidence of criminal activity such as drug dealing, youth disorder, criminal damage, illegal money lending, fly tipping, benefit fraud and counterfeit goods.

"If an alleged wrongdoing is serious enough for covert surveillance, it should be by the police," added Mr Deane.

Tower Hamlets has also been criticised in the past for using cameras for minor traffic offences.

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