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Councils to lose some spy powers

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Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has opened a public consultation on how snooping laws should be used by local authorities

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, or RIPA, is the set of rules which governs how secret services can snoop on UK citizens. In recent years it has also been used, in a small percentage of cases, by local authorities to regulate how they spy on people - either by direct surveillance or by requesting communications data from ISPs and telcos.

The review will look at which authorities can use such investigatory powers and for what purposes. It will also consider raising the rank of local council civil servant allowed to authorise such activity, and whether elected councillors should have an oversight role. A survey by the LibDems found a fifth of staff allowed to instigate RIPA investigations were below senior management level.

As promised in December the Home Office will make changes to the code of practise which governs use of RIPA. This could limit the RIPA-empowered investigation of offences such as dog fouling and restrict the use of surveillance to offences like fly-tipping and rogue trading.

The vast majority of surveillance which is regulated by RIPA is carried out by police and intelligence services. In 2007 there were 519,260 requests to telcos and ISPs for comms data - local councils made just 1,707 of these.

Wacky Jacqui has also promised a review of the national DNA database after the Home Office lost its final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and was told to delete entries for innocent people.

The consultation is open until 10 July - more details here. ®

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