The Home Office has announced it will tighten up the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), to prevent it being used by local authorities for trivial matters.
RIPA gives the government the power of surveillance to fight crime, but it has been controversially used to tap communications data to check up on council matters such as school zoning, putting bins out and more. Half a million requests were allowed on communications data last year alone.
Under the new plans, local authorities will face a higher authorisation level to use RIPA, with a senior executive approving the use of communications data or surveillance, with elected councillors overseeing the use of the act.
The Home Office said the new code of practice would also "clarify the test of necessity and proportionality so techniques will not be used to investigate dog fouling or people putting bins out a day early."
In addition, covert surveillance would be limited to a select number of public bodies, and communications between people and their council will be deemed confidential, and require a higher level of authorisation.
However, the Home Office made it clear, that councils would still be able to use RIPA. "Many of the investigations that rely on the techniques regulated by RIPA are vital to protecting public safety - not just for serious crime and terrorism - and they can also make a real difference to people's everyday lives," it said in a statement. "For example, by stopping rogue traders or trapping fly tippers who dump tonnes of rubbish on an industrial scale."
Policing Minister David Hanson MP added: "There is no doubt that a wide range of public authorities need to be able to authorise surveillance under RIPA in order to protect us from those who would do us harm. But it is equally clear that public authorities must respect our right to privacy and only use techniques under RIPA when it is necessary and proportionate to do so."
The plans were developed after a public consultation which received 222 responses.
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