Heart Investigation: Council Spying

25 February 2013, 06:00 | Updated: 25 February 2013, 07:44

Heart Cambridgeshire has found out how councils in our area have been using spying powers since they were introduced in 2000.

A Freedom Of Information (FOI) request sent to all 11 councils in our area reveals that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) has been used a total of 525 times since its introduction in 2000. Its been used to investigate things like fly tipping, benefit fraud, anti-social behaviour, counting the number of beggars on the streets and dog fouling.

Heart reporter Liz Summers has spoken to Andrew Watson, Cambridgeshire Co-ordinator at NO2ID, a campaign group that focuses on 'the threat to liberty and privacy'. Watch the full interview below.

A spokesperson for Peterborough City Council told Heart: "The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) allows us to use investigatory practices, such as covert surveillance, to target criminals and prevent crime. In all cases such tactics would only be used as a last resort."

"Use of the Act is strictly regulated so that it does not intrude unnecessarily on people's privacy and all council staff who use the powers are specially trained. In the last inspection by The Office of Surveillance Commissioners in 2012 inspectors concluded that our use of RIPA is 'restricted but well-considered’."

The full findings of the FOI investigation are outlined in the table below

Name Of Authority Number Of Times RIPA Used Since 2000 Reasons
Cambridge City 44 Witness harassment, anti-social behaviour, Fraud, vandalism, witness protection, racial harassment, criminal damage, noise, arson, cctv to count beggars in the city, fly tipping, serious assault.
Peterborough 31 (between 2009 - 2012)  Corporate fraud, test purchasing, fly tipping, trading standards operation.
Huntingdonshire RIPA PART I 83 times, RIPA PART II 9  times (since 2006)  Benefit fraud, Environmental health, licensing. 
East cambs 16 (since April 2005)  Noise complaint, possible breach of planning controls, benefit fraud, unlawful limousines. 
South Cambs  60 (since 2005) Benefit fraud, fly tipping, Illegal slaughter of animals, fraud, Vandalism. 
Fenland  19 (between 2004 & 2010) Internal fraud, benefit fraud, environmental, food safety. 
North Hertfordshire 48 (as at 30/10/12)  Benefit fraud, fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour, noise nuisance.
South Holland 115  Benefit fraud, anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, noise complaint. 
South Kesteven  46  Fly-tipping, anti-social bahaviour, drugs, planning enforcement, dog fouling.
Uttlesford  32  Fuel theft, benefit fraud, break ins, staff surveillance.
West Suffolk  22 (since September 2007)  Benefit fraud, employment matters, noise nuisance.