UK Liberty

Saturday Times – quite a bit on surveillance society

Posted in surveillance society by ukliberty on June 1, 2008

Terror law turns thousands of council officials into spies:

Thousands of middle managers in local councils are being authorised to spy on people suspected of petty offences using powers designed to prevent crime and terrorism.Even junior council officials are being allowed to initiate surveillance operations in what privacy campaigners likened to Eastern bloc police tactics.

The Home Office is expected to be urged by the Commons Home Affairs select committee to issue guidelines to councils on the type of operations in which surveillance can be used.

Amid increasing concern in Parliament that the UK is slowly becoming a surveillance society, the committee has looked at the operation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which some MPs say is being misused to focus on petty crime rather than serious offending. …

Do we really need to use these powers to tackle dog fouling?

Human rights lawyers are increasingly alarmed that a piece of legislation that put state snooping on a legal basis has resulted in a huge expansion of the public sector’s ability to pry into private lives.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was not one of those pieces of legislation to grab the public’s attention when it was passed. But in Whitehall and among civil liberties groups, its importance was never in doubt. …

Poole Council used terror law to spy on parents:

One council that firmly believes in using surveillance powers to the fullest is Poole, on the South Coast.

Officials authorisied spying operations to detemine whether fishermen were illegally gathering shellfish in the town’s harbour and to try to find out who had damaged a barrier.

Then the council decided that an Act of Parliament designed to defeat terrorism should be used to see if a couple had been cheating the school catchment system. Tim Joyce and Jenny Paton and their children were put under surveillance for more than two weeks before being asked by Poole Council to “come in for a chat”.

The council had launched the spying operation because they wrongly suspected that the couple had lied about living in the catchment area for Lilliput First School to get their child a place. …

Hearteningly most of the comments seem very concerned about these articles.

The interesting thing here is that people have to realise it is not just the threat of some dictator coming to power that civil liberties supporters are concerned about, it is also all these officials at lower levels misusing and abusing their myriad powers in oppressive yet entirely mundane ways.

By the way, there’s a great error in the Do we really need… article:

Parliament agreed a big list to justify such surveillance, ranging from the obvious prevention and detection of crime to preventing public safety or protecting public health.

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