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Number of local council snoopers clipped

RIPA abuse curtailed

The number of local officials who can authorise access to communications records and order surveillance operations will be cut under changes to snooping regulations announced today.

The Home Office's move follows repeated controversy over the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by local authorities probing trivial trangressions such as littering and people putting their bins out on the wrong day.

Only director-level officials will now be able to authorise use of RIPA powers, Alan Johnson said.

Earlier this year a survey revealed more than 1,600 local officials were able to authorise use of RIPA powers. Cuts were first proposed by central government in April as part of public consultation.

"The public willingly accept that in their efforts to bring criminals to justice, the police should be able to locate people by their mobile phone records," Johnson said.

"But they will not accept such powers being used to spy on people who put their rubbish out on the wrong day, or let their dogs foul the streets, because this is clearly not proportionate."

Later this week, Jenny Paton, a mother from Poole, is taking her local authority to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal over its investigation of whether she had cheated school catchment area rules.

She hadn't, but rather than ask, the council went ahead with an operation that included tailing her car and obtaining her phone records. The normally secret Tribunal has for the first time agreed to sit in public. ®

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