Surveillance society

Lewisham Council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to carry out covert surveillance of local people 42 times in the past two years, according to an investigation by a national pressure group.

As a New York Times report put it, '[Under RIPA], localities and agencies can film people with hidden cameras, trawl through communication traffic data like phone calls and Web site visits and enlist undercover 'agents' to pose, for example, as teenagers who want to buy alcohol'. These are serious powers which are used to spy on people without giving them any notice.

Civil liberties campaign Big Brother Watch has published a complete break-down of RIPA authorisations by councils in the periods 2008-09 and 2009-10. This includes the data on Lewisham, which shows that the council undertook covert surveillance for the following reasons:


2008/09
2 - Allowing repairs to be carried out on the public highway on a regular basis;
1 - Counterfeiting offences under the Trade Marks Act 1984;
1 - Investigation into the abuse\neglect of a child;
15 - Related to offences investigated by Trading standards including counterfeiting.

2009/10
1 - Investigation into the abuse\neglect of a child;
1 - Unlawful use of a blue badge;
1 - Counterfeiting offences under the Trade Marks Act 1984;
1 - Fraudulent application for Social Care services;
2 - Cases related to offences investigated by Trading Standards including counterfeiting;
17 - Benefit and housing fraud investigations.

The council did not supply any information about whether any prosecutions had resulted from this surveillance.

To put the figures into context, Newcastle upon Tyne Council used the RIPA powers most often, at 231 incidents over two years.

The new coalition government has promised to 'ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime'.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

I assume Big Brother Watch is campaigning for more surrveilance?

I'd like to see vehicle recognisition cameras used on some streets to prevent banned or uninsured drivers driving vehicles.

Mb said...

Policing by consent is not a term you're familiar with then? Presumably you'd be happy with the police randomly searching your house at a time of their choosing without grounds for suspicion?

Anonymous said...

... or, more pertinent to this story, a middle-ranking council employee reading your emails without telling you? You know, the emails you exchange with your girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other? And your employer? And your mates? Then there's your phonecalls. And sitting outside your house, watching you. This isn't a police officer, this is some random council employee. That's all ok, is it?

Brockley Nick said...

I must say, I can't get too worked up about this, without knowing any of the specifics. For example, sending kids in to see if shops are selling alcohol - I thought that was a sensible practice, as old as the hills?

Brockley Nick said...

The first anon wasn't arguing for any of those things, he / she was suggesting automatic monitoring of licensed vehicles on public streets.

Brockley Kate said...

Your first comment was almost worthy of Headhunter, Nick :D

Anonymous said...

An interesting document.

Such a bad law. It was supposed to be for serious crimes and terrorism and instead has been used for snooping on people to enforce the local by-laws.

Allowing local authorities to decide how to apply such a law was asking for trouble. On the say so of a junior council official they are authorised to spy on the public based on their own judgement.

I wonder if any of the local councils used these powers to spy on council employees and contractors fiddling their expenses?

Brockley Nick said...

I take great offence at that ;)

No, unlike our friend HH, I am simply saying that I DON'T want to rush to any conclusions about how appropriate the Council's behavior is. Lots of Councillors rummaging through people's private communications - bad. Trading standards people investigating whether shops are sticking to the terms of their license - fine.

Anonymous said...

To anon @ 11.18 - I agree with you, but surely the only reason anyone is worried about other employees reading their emails is because they know they're sending emails that they shouldn't be sending!

Brockley Nick said...

Oh man, not the old "only the guilty have anything to fear" line.

Firstly, we have a right to privacy. Secondly, everyone has sent an email in private that they wouldn't want someone, somewhere seeing.

Anonymous said...

Human Rights Watch are far more part of the problem than the solution. Really don't see an issue with any of what's happened here.

Mb said...

A non governmental pain in the arse human rights group is exactly what's needed. Checks and balances, it's right that the local authorities justify exactly why they use that level of intrusion. No one's asking for it to be banned. Civil rights tend to get erroded rather than wipped away at a stroke. So long as lewisham don't start special rendition flights to thamesmead.

Brockley Kate said...

Lol!

Brockley Kate said...

PS. Is 'Mb' Monkeyboy? I'm confused ...

Rob Blackie said...

Can I be the first person to point out the irony of somebody anonymously defending the right of the council to spy on people?

If you've got nothing to hide then why are you anonymous? ;)

Anonymous said...

Cos I can't be arsed to type my name...

Winston Smith said...

Rob - Not that it was a reason for posting anonymously (that was pure laziness as usual) but yes, I guess I've got the fact that I'm even on this site to hide as I should be doing work - presumably like most of the other people on here?! Nick - it wasn't that old line at all, the arguments are way too complex to put in this little box without missing something and inevitably being shot down by you BC militant greens. Though as I said, i agree with the earlier poster and therefore with you for as well, but it's not a black and white issue.

Brockley Nick said...

"BC militant greens"? Did you read my first post?

Mb said...

'tis I monkeyboy. Can't be arsed with the full monika when on the iPhone

Anonymous said...

Yet people allow companies to freely track their searches on the internet.

Electronic travelcards combined with CCTV allows your everymove be monitored.

How about online shopping think of how that could be used not in your interests.

Then there are ATMs that not only track your spending patterns but your movements while providing a personalised photo of your mug.

Borough Surveillance usergroup said...

Is everybody allowed to say 'Arse' on this site?

Headhunter said...

Arse, arse, arse.... Yep, guess so.

Anonymous said...

I can't be arsed to reply.

B.S.U. said...

H.H. wasnt allowed to say La Lanterna was a pile. Hardly seems fair

Anonymous said...

Any chance of infra-red cammeras for those to lazy to go to Hilly Fields?

Anonymous said...

I reckon we should all be micro-chipped and bar coded with tattoos. Would make dealing with crime so much easier.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't got anything to hide why complain about being micro-chipped?

Brockley Nick said...

@BSU - he was "allowed", he was just asked politely not to.

Headhunter said...

Sorry, very juvenile, shouldn't say *rse... I'm hot and bored and stuck in the office.

B.S.U. said...

You wer'nt the only one saying ***e. Next it will be ****y ***e

Now Then said...

I'm missing something; How does secret suveillance 'allow repairs to take place on the public highway'?

Tressilliana said...

I was puzzled by that but think it must be car repairs done on the street instead of in a garage. I'm pleased the council is investigating that kind of thing. Don't know if it needs this particular Act to justify its surveillance.

Now Then said...

Yes, bit of a sledgehammer to a walnut I'd suggest if thats the case. Child neglect is somehow in a different range, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

As no one seems to be enforcing the 20mph speed limits why not use cameras?

Anonymous said...

speed cameras and surveillance of specific individuals are two different things.

Anonymous said...

Those limits just encourage the already go-slow motorists of Brockley to go even slower. London needs to be getting a move-on, not dawdling.

Rt Hon George Osbourn said...

yes 50mph in residential street will really help. Also will cull the old and kids therefore reducing social and educational cost going forward. This is exactly the kind of synergistic, out the box thinking we need. Send your details to my staff, we should talk.

Anonymous said...

When I were a lad we had no visable speed limits. Kids just got out of the way on the shout of "car!"

Diminished personal responsibility is hurting the UK.

Now Then said...

Were there also those 'Agents' hanging round the offy pretending to be teenagers?

Anonymous said...

"KENT police are attempting to set a legal precedent after charging a man for allegedly making lewd comments about children during a private online conversation."

http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/

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