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Councils warned over spying laws

BBC | June 23, 2008

Councils in England have been urged to review the way they use surveillance powers to investigate suspected crime.

Under laws brought in to help fight terrorism, councils can access phone and e-mail records and use surveillance to detect or stop a criminal offence.

But Local Government Association chairman Sir Simon Milton has written to councils warning overzealous use of the powers could alienate the public.

They should not be used for "trivial offences" such as dog fouling, he adds.

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Concerns have been raised about the way some councils have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Recent examples include a family in Dorset followed for several weeks to see if they really did live in a school catchment area.

Other uses have included examining rubbish to monitor household waste.

In his letter, Sir Simon said: "Parliament clearly intended that councils should use the new powers, and generally they are being used to respond to residents' complaints about fly tippers, rogue traders and those defrauding the council tax or housing benefit system."

Sir Simon identifies dog fouling and littering as examples of two offences in which the act's powers were not "necessary and proportionate".

Full article here.

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