Councils in Scotland have been accused of abusing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Scotland Act (RIPSA) to secretly monitor and spy on thousands of unsuspecting citizens without court order, for a range of bizarre reasons including using the legislation to hide CCTV cameras at a primary school and in a bowling club.
A Freedom of Information Act Request has found that Scottish councils have have launched 1,500 spying operations in the past five years, resulting in only 32 convictions.
RISPA was initially designed to help authorities to combat terrorism and serious crime, but councils have been using the legislation to investigate mundane cases including complaints of televisions being too loud, the dragging of furniture, doors being slammed, people running up and down stairs too loudly and even complaints of washing lines being vandalised.
The legislation allows councils to conduct direct surveillance including the photographing of someone in a public place, the bugging of someone, the use of undercover agents to follow and gather evidence, the installation of hidden cameras and the interception of emails.
According to The Express Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said:
These powers were intended for serious crimes, and instead councils used them for snooping on people who made too much noise going up and down their stairs.
From over 1,000 surveillance operations just a handful of convictions were actually secured, and that should be ringing alarm bells that councils are not getting the important question of when to put someone under surveillance right in a great deal of cases.
Too often local authorities jump to heavy-handed tactics when more proportionate alternatives are available. People are right to question why it is that their elected councillors are not doing more to protect their privacy and rein in this snooping.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance blasted councils for “wasting” dwindling budgets on secret investigations, said:
Councils should focus on delivering the services residents pay for, not wasting their cash snooping on them.
Extensive use of costly covert surveillance represents poor value for taxpayers’ money, and in many cases will be a totally unjustified invasion of privacy.”
A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said:
There is absolutely no evidence of the over-use or misuse of RIPSA legislation. The use is proportionate, necessary and legal.