The Conservative leader of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, has warned councils against over zealous use of surveillance powers that they were given to fight terrorism and criminal offences.
Reports in this morning’s media note how a family in Dorset was watched for three weeks in order to establish whether or not they were actually in the correct school catchment area. It was found that they were. The Telegraph reports that local authorities are launching more than 1,000 covert surveillance operations every month. The newspaper highlights that Newcastle has used its powers 24 times to investigate parking fines and by Conservatives in Kensington and Chelsea to investigate the misuse of disabled parking badges.
Sir Simon appeared to imply that the surveillance powers were appropriate in dealing with fly tippers, rogue traders and those defrauding the council tax or housing benefit system. Action against littering was not, he has written, a "necessary and proportionate" use of local authority’s surveillance powers.
Dominic Grieve, the new Shadow Home Secretary, welcomed Sir Simon’s intervention:
"The public will be alarmed that such strong powers introduced under the guise of counterterrorism are being used by councils. They must be as tightly controlled as if they were being used by the police or security services."
Sir Simon said that the media also had a responsibility to use language more carefully.
Talk of snoopers patrolling council parks to check that people were
allowing their dogs to foul green spaces would, he implied on this
morning’s Today programme, produce a different response to news that a
park-keeper was empowered to stop fouling of places where children play.