LibDems uncover over 10,000 RIPA yarns
Demand controls on council snooping
Local councils are using snooping powers too readily and without proper oversight.
A survey of 180 councils by the Lib Dems has found snooping laws have been used 10,288 times in the last five years. Some 1,615 council workers can now authorise such investigations and 21 per cent of those staff are below senior management grade.
Freedom of Information requests to local councils revealed that only 9 per cent of these investigations, regulated by RIPA, led to a successful prosecution, caution or fixed-penalty notice.
Julia Goldsworthy, Lib Dem Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “This Government sees civil liberties as little more than a temporary inconvenience. Slowly but surely freedoms have been eroded. We’re now in a situation where dog fouling is considered enough to warrant surveillance by council officials.
“When RIPA was passed, only nine organisations, including the police and security services, were allowed to use it. Now a total of 795 bodies, including all 475 local authorities, can use powers that were originally designed to prevent terrorism."
The survey found 88 cases of incorrectly crapping dogs have been investigated under RIPA regulations over the last five years.
The Lib Dems want RIPA investigations to require a magistrate's signature.
Of course council use of RIPA is a tiny fraction of its total use. In 2008 total requests increased 50 per cent to 519,260 - and just 1, 707 of these were from local councils.
The LibDems are also calling for a wider review of government legislation which infringes on our liberties. These include ID cards, restrictions on trial by jury, restrictions on the right to protest, the abolition of control orders, (which allow for house arrest, curfews and controls over who people meet or talk to,) renegotiation of the Extradition Treaty signed with the US, abolition of the ContactPoint database, restoring of the right to silence and greater regulation of CCTV. ®
Stop being wilfully ignorant
RIPA does NOT provide powers - it imposes restrictions on powers obtained from other legislation and methods (in the public domain) for investigating them.
If you want to worry yourselves just look at the sheer quantity of surveillance equipment available to the general public who have no general oversight to prevent them using it how they wish.
And again, dog fouling and littering are criminal offences and therefore RIPA authorisation must be obtained (not a choice or an option).
Further example - Councils have a duty to enforce noise nuisance legislation. Resident calls in claiming that their neighbours are playing the radio loudly till the small hours and shouting to each other over the top of it.
How does the Council establish that this is a genuine complaint and not simply malicious?
The obvious answer is to go and listen - but since there is a chance that they will hear the contents of the shouted conversations they have to obtain RIPA authorisation to do so - no option. Remove RIPA and you remove the ability to investigate noise nuisance - often quoted as one of the more annoying of annoyances in the UK.
When it comes to fly-tipping, dog-fouling, etc, what is actually being done under the auspices of RIPA?
It's hard to see that much would need to be done or *could* be done apart from identifying the people responsible.
It's not obviously more an invasion of someone's privacy to take a a video of them doing something in public, or for someone to follow them and see where they live than to have an official or copper go straight up to them and demand they identify themselves.
Given the nature of some people, it may be rather safer for officials not to confront them directly, unless they're mob-handed.
For those who'd argue that it's the thin end of a wedge leading to 100% surveillance, someone could argue with equal sense that making it illegal to find out who's breaking a minor law in public is a thin end of a wedge leading to a total lack of law enforcement.
Of course, many thin end of the wedge arguments are bollocks, since they assume people are unable to realise when things have gone too far.
If people *are* able to work out what laws they do and don't want enforcing, then things will get damped down if/when they do go to far.
If people *aren't* able to work out what laws they want enforcing, then people saying RIPA has gone too far seem likely to be wasting their time anyway.
Now, I'm sure that if things *did* get to the point where most people thought powers were being over-used, and cared enough to generate a political backlash which rolled things back, the thin-end-of-the-wedge types would be the first to jump up and say "Told you so!", despite the fact that the situation would indicate that the population in general was able to correct things even if they'd ignored the doom-mongers..
>>"Give them these powers and suddenly, look, every tom, dick and harry down at the council is suddenly able to order surveillance on anyone they suspect of looking at them funny."
But it plainly isn't every Tom, Dick, or Harry, since the bulk of the authorisations still come from senior management (whatever that means), and it seems fairly likely that most of the rest come from people just under them.
Anyone ordering surveillance not only has to find the money for it from somewhere, but pretty obviously has to say what it's *for*, if only for the reason that the people doing it wouldn't know what they should be doing if they didn't know what the reason for the surveillance was.
Someone can't just say "Dig up some dirt on David Hicks - I don't like the look of him!" without a serious risk that the person they tell will go straight off to blow the whistle, even if only to protect themselves.
So far, the argument seems to be that powers are sometimes used for things that some people see as trivial, not that investigations are being done for malicious reasons, otherwise, those investigations would be the *first* things that people drew attention to.
I dare say the paranoid might worry about what we're not being told about malicious investigations being done secretly, but they could worry about that whether or not there was any legislation about when powers could be legally used.
Unfortunately, the paranoid aren't much use as an early warning system for potential problems, any more than a smoke alarm which never stops shrieking is a useful safety device.
If anything, what actually happens is that people just get used to the noise, and ignore all alarms.