back to article Local council uses snooping laws to spy on three-year-old

Poole Borough Council has admitted using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), designed to regulate snooping by police and other bodies, to check the usual address of a three-year-old child applying for a primary school place. The council is unrepentant and said it will continue to use powers available to it under …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    for fooks sake!!!

    were i the parent of that child i would be at his office now introducing him to my good friend mr pain delivered by his acqaintance mr cluebat(6" nail obligatory!)

    what kind of fooking nation are we when a local government mandarin(or satsuma) decides its fine and dandy to use such disproportionate powers to check on a 3year olds home address

    bastids, bastids, bastids, bastids, bastids!


  2. Steve Woods
    Thumb Down


    .. to HM Open Prison United Kingdom.

  3. Sean Aaron


    I'm pretty sure this kind of crap is exactly the reason why these sorts of laws shouldn't be passed in the first place.

    Not much of a surprise to me...

  4. Silas

    Function Creep

    I tells ya, they'll be using RIPA for even more petty crap next. How Poole Council can justify this is beyond me. Couldn't they have just looked at the family's council tax bills of the previous three years and worked out from there where they'd lived? Rather than waste an inordinate amount of money doing covert surveillance?

    Where will this madness end? We - the population of this country - need to get the political classes out of power by any means necessary. It's gone beyond a joke.

    I am the revolution and I'd like my fucking country back.

    PS - I think you mean Codes of Practice, rather than "Practise"

  5. Anigel

    We told you so

    Someone has to say it but we told you so.

    Back when they were trying to introduce this snoopers bill we said it would be abused like this and we were told oh shut up you conspiracy theorists they wouldn't do that.


  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I'm all for it.

    Well done Poole Borough Council.

    Far too much cheating going on on this issue.

  7. Iain

    Maybe fair enough

    Assuming that there is not extra expense (big assumption) on this surveillance than would ordinarily be spent on such an investigation into fraudulent school applications I don't see a problem. Law breakers need to be discovered and stopped. On first glance it may appear to be a case of sledgehammer-fly interaction but the council is aware of how contentious an issue school places are and would like to be seen to be doing everything to keep the system fair. If they did nothing they would doubtless be accused of not caring and encouraging fraudulent behavior.

  8. Matthew

    And they wonder why we're cynical?!

    This kind of 'fuction creep' is why I'm against DNA databases and ID cards. The reason they cite today for the technology has nothing in common with the uses they come up with later.

    CCTV: on introduction - 'Will stop vandalism'. Now: 'we'll catch you on a double-yellow line'...

  9. Baht At

    Oh dear

    I'm sure we were reassured that these powers would only be used against serious crims.

    Like parents who try to get their children into the school of their choice.

    Personally I think we should have introduced internment for crimes like that.

  10. Scott


    They've gone from using this law to monitor people that maybe engaged in terror plots to spying on 3 year olds, that's one extreme to the other and if you fall in the middle they now have all the excuse they need to use this law, say your using a hose pipe during a hos pipe ban or even put the wrong rubbish in the wrong bin, wlkaing the dog and seeing where it poops?....shudder.

  11. Dan B


    Law breakers?! Wanting to get your child into a good school is breaking the law (and a criminal matter) now?

    Why am I not surprised.

    Viva le revolution.

  12. Dave

    All point at Poole

    I encourage everyone to point at Poole Borough Council and say "Aha!". This is the sort of quasi-legitimate use of massive powers that we are afraid of. These laws were designed to legislate "for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism. "

    And none of this "In such circumstances, we have considered it appropriate to treat the matter as a potential criminal matter." malarky when discussing an application to a primary school. Is it criminal to lie on a School Application? It shouldn't be.

    This incident is the clear warning of how these powers can be used arbitrarily by an non-elected offical declaring a crime by fiat. He can't do that. And he can't use Anti-Terrorism Laws to legitimise his actions.

    Let the petty officals receive a rephormation from El-Reg.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    to your new and improved police state and the death of your civil liberties.

  14. scott
    Black Helicopters

    The Govt is Mother, the Govt is Father

    Shocking story of the day #1 – Serial criminal runs down and kills 4 yr old boy *twice*, drives off and doesn’t even get jail time for it.

    Shocking story of the day #2 – Councils using RIPA to spy on family for 2 whole weeks on the chance they’re trying to get their youngest child into the same school as their other kids, and are totally unrepentant about doing it.

    On their own, each is shocking. Together – it clearly shows what is wrong with our “modern” world today. We are the point where our petty local officials can justify 2 weeks of covert surveillance over a school seat. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have covert spying on the likes of the scumbag driver? Gather enough evidence to stop him, and those like him, killing innocents. Surely *that* has more benefit to society?

    Orwell - how disappointingly right was he??

    Black Helicoptor, goes without saying reall

  15. David Harper

    Ah, the irony

    "Tim Martin, head of legal and democratic services"

    Of a council that treats its council taxpayers as terrorists.

    You couldn't make it up.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    we were warned ... the time that such powers would inevitably be used for trivial matters. The reason is the same as the answer to "why do dogs lick their balls ?" [1]

    [1] Because they can.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    A criminal act was committed (in 2 of the 3 cases they investigated)...

    ... and RIPA was used to gather evidence of that crime. Might seem excessive, but essentially this was no different to any other kind of fraud. RIPA is not a terrorism only thing as many people think - it's for all crimes.

    I know of people who, of their 3 requested schools, were not given any of them. Result, child has to go on their own (so without any of their friends from pre-school) to a school which is significantly further away, and to be honest, not as nice or as good performing.

    If that was down to the system being fairly and honestly applied, so be it. However, if those people had lost out their child going to the school they wanted because of fraud by other people - then I think doing everything possible (subject to financial sense) to stop these things happening is excellent.

    Might sound petty, making a fraudulent school application, but I'm sure some people say the same about fiddling benefits - it's all fraud. Everyone should have the rules applied to them fairly, and consistently. Fraud is fraud.

  18. Simp
    Dead Vulture

    Another way of keeping the elite from the downbeat

    This to me seems like another way of stopping people from impoverished areas getting in to schools that "pride" themselves on an affluent image. At the end of the day, why the heck does it matter where a child actually comes from so long as they have potential.

    Surely the fact parents lie about where they live for the sake of a better application shows completely how the current system is a big FAIL. Smart Alec with an IQ equal to the potato has a better chance of getting in to these schools than Potato sack Barnes who has intelligence, IQ and a hard working attitude.

    I went to a Grammar School and saw so many people who didn't deserve to be there but because they were toffs could be, rather than complain as indeividuals though...How would we go about actually complaining in this day and age where petitions have to be approved, etc. A fools Democracy, we live in a dictatorship system really

  19. 3x2

    Mission Creep

    I suspect this sort of behaviour is just the tip of the ice-berg. Right from the start we have been warned against putting this kind of power in the hands of local functionaries. They can't help themselves, it's like handing a child a loaded gun.

    (bear in mind this is advice to schools!)

  20. Liam
    Black Helicopters


    as quoted in the film V for Vendetta : "People shouldnt be affraid of their Governments - Governments should be scared of their people"

    as said before Viva le revolution.

    if this fucking government doesnt sort itself out soon they will be facing more terrorists than ever. mainly white english people who are just sick of stupid decisions and criminal actions of their surveillance government

    surely as said before people can PROVE they live at certain addresses

    the fact that people have to try and get into 'that good school' is a joke. all schools in this country should be good - we pay enough tax. maybe we shouldnt be throwing money at africa, the middle east, asia and the EU until our country is fixed?

    i have already decied i cannot live in my lovely little house for many more years as the local schools are shite. this is ridiculous, i will have to move and lose a fair bit of money just for my future kids to get a decent education - thats if they arent tagged at birth, which im sure isnt too many years away :(

    anyone else think guy fawkes needs a modern copycat?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spying on a 3 year old.

    Not a good thing to do in these days of paedophile-trigger-happy-string-em-up-first-ask-questions-later lynch mobs.

    Anyone know the name of the council officer wearing the hat, trench coat and dark glasses with a slight nervous sweat?

  22. Jim

    Waste of council tax but

    why not just educate your child at home in the way you want them to be educated. Save £££ in mortgage fees, beat the system and get to see them grow up.

    Wave at the children going to school as you pass the Go sign traffic lights.

  23. Spleen

    We don't need no comment title, we don't need no post control

    "Shocking story of the day #1 – Serial criminal runs down and kills 4 yr old boy *twice*, drives off and doesn’t even get jail time for it."

    Killed him twice? He got out, performed CPR on the kid, managed to resuscitate him, then got back in his car and drove back over him? That's commitment to getting in the Daily Heil, that is.

    Anyway, I've used up my outrage quota for the week so all I can do is laugh. This is even better than the church school silliness. "Oh yeah, I'm definitely Christian, I've been a Christist for years, I go to church regularly (twice a year is regularity after all), please let my kid in so he doesn't have to go to the place where Chemistry consists of how to cook your junk and all the maths problems are along the lines of "If your takings for the day are £150, and your pimp takes a £100 cut, how much can you keep back from him without getting your bitch ass slapped."

    Really this article should just read "Government screws up, individuals desperately try to do the best they can in adverse circumstances, government finds a way to blame their workarounds rather than itself for the crap result." Then El Reg staff could just copy and paste it two or three times a day and go down the pub.

  24. frymaster

    The difference between this council and others...

    ... is that this council used the relevant laws and documented what they did.

    I bet any amount of money that almost every council uses at the very least "unofficial", ad-hoc, off-the-record just-going-to-park-my-van-here-for-a-bit methods to check stuff like this.

  25. Brian

    @ IAIN

    I said nothing when they came for the three year olds....

  26. Ru

    Re: anyone else think guy fawkes needs a modern copycat?

    An incompetent bomber, motivated by religion?

    There have been a few of those, of late.

  27. Mr B

    Good excuse

    for a possible completely different purpose.

    What's the point of following cars when the 3 year old gets thru the gate @1600 to re-emerge @0830 the next morning, to me the kid lives there period.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It would be good to see someone put the head of legal and democratic services for the Borough of Poole under 24 hour surveillance for a time and see how he likes it.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The educated will always find ways of passing their advantages onto their children, whether by private schooling or failing that, playing the system to ensure their children get into a good state school- it's human nature to look after our own, and if we encouraged parents to nurture thir children more, particularly in their education, society as a whole would be a lot better off.

    All that the current system achieves is that the catchment areas of good schools are packed out by the wealthy. At least with grammars, those less well off stood a chance if they worked hard- how in their quest for 'fairness', they've moved the battlefield to the one place these kids most in need of a chance can't fight- who'll pay the most for these houses. And when you realise that the families buying these houses see them as an alternative to paying £10k+ private school fees for 7yrs, for each of their three children, you begin to realise just how unfair the current system is.

    I'm not criticising those who do choose state schools- under the current system they're entitled to and i don't have a problem with them making the most of that, but how about we means test education? Grammars/secondary moderns didn't go down well, comprehensives clearly aren't working; maybe those who can afford private schooling shouldn't have the option of using the good state schools, which could better be used to serve those who have no other chance of a decent education. State education suddenly has a lot more resources because a load of their pupils have been moved out into private schools (or are at least paying substantial fees to their state school), so they can have smaller class sizes, better teacher pay, can afford better facilities, could subsidise school trips to places that are actually interesting and beneficial to visit. Wealthier families get places at the type of schools they want- yes, they'll have to pay, in some cases a lot more, but at least they'll save on buying those expensive houses in catchment areas, lawyers for admissions appeals and private tutors, and if there were a sliding scale of subsidies available, they'd be able to afford it, and maybe they should pay- maybe education has been unrealistically cheap for them so far. The need for extra private schools could be met partly by selling off unused state school sites to private enterprises (businesses or non-profit/charitable trusts).

    We do this with care for the elderly, higher education- why not also secondary/primary education?

  30. Jay Nicholl


    Poole LEA so bad that good parents are driven to sneaky behaviour to try ensure their kids get best start in life, Poole responds by putting covert surveillance on 3 year old.

    Just remember this next time someone tells you that the ID/ latest fantastical database of goodness designed to protect us from evil will only ever be used against nasty men intent on wholesale murder. Severity is subjective, Poole doesn't have many terrorists but it does have parents trying to do the best for their kids - Get them!

  31. Robin
    Paris Hilton

    re: ffs

    "the fact that people have to try and get into 'that good school' is a joke. all schools in this country should be good - we pay enough tax."

    Bingo! I keep getting told that what I want from public services is 'choice', however what I actually want is for my nearest doctor/hospital/school, to actually work properly instead of competing on statistics.

    The lady pictured here next to my post may as well be in charge.

  32. Chris Cheale

    RIPA is our friend

    Remember folks it's under RIPA legislation that Phorm is illegal. It's a duel edged sword - while it allows for some forms of surveillance under certain circumstances it ALSO legislates under what circumstances that surveillance is legal or called for.

    This instance comes under the Covert (Directed) Surveillance part of the RIPA legislation. The only important question here is - is it a crime to try to get your child into a primary school of which you're NOT in the catchment area?

    This is important because the RIPA directive states:

    "Directed surveillance can be lawfully undertaken to obtain private information about a person if public authorities reasonably suspect that a person has committed, or intends to commit, A CRIME." (my emphasis)

    If the parents were NOT commiting a CRIMINAL offence then the council was in breach of the legislation and in so doing WERE comitting a criminal offence and should be "hoisted by their own petard".

  33. Ferry Boat

    Choice, my friendly monkey's arse

    There should be no choice. Your kid should go to the nearest school. If the problem is that the nearest school is no good then the school needs fixing. All the 'choice' has done is add stress to parents, let poor schools fail, put more traffic on the road and favour the rich. Oh, and make councils spy on families. Fix the first problem and you don't have to deal with the problems from not fixing it.

  34. DM


    ...they came for fingerprints and I did not speak out because I was not a terminal five traveller.

    then they came for the web profiles and I did not speak out because I was not a BT (or Virgin or Talktalk) customer.

    then they came for the school applicants and I did not speak out because I was not a school applicant.

    When they came for my thoughts, there was no one left to speak out.

    /Mine's the one with the Niemöller biography in the pocket.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >fraudulent applications for school places

    Hmmm... Fraud law was updated in 2005-6 since, amongst other issues, goods or money had to be obtained rather than services.

    Education is clearly a service, but look what it says regarding services:-

    11 Obtaining services dishonestly

    (1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he obtains services for

    himself or another—

    (a) by a dishonest act, and

    (subsection 2)

    (a) they are made available on the basis that payment has been, is being or

    will be made for or in respect of them,

    That is, the services so stolen must be normally charged for, and they mustn't have made the payment, now, either education is free in which case it can't be fraudulently obtained or it's paid via taxation in which case they've paid in full.

    It appears that by investigating "fraudulent" school applications, they weren't actually investigating an offence at all.

    I hope the two "criminal offences" aren't fraud along these lines, maybe there's something else to the cases...

  36. Peter Gold badge

    That's why applications need legal review

    This would not have happened if a judge had to sign off the application - why would this be different from a search warrant?

  37. Elmer Phud

    Cheating bloody parents

    Serves them right for cheating on others who had more rights to send their kids to the school.

    Reports say that they didn't move out of their old house until the kid had a placement at the school - how many other families can afford that sort of thing just to ensure that their brats get in to the 'right' school.

    Greedy, selfish bastards bringing their kids up to learn that it's fine to fuck everyone else over if the end seems to justify the means.

  38. Tom Kelsall

    Think of the CHILDREN!!! AAAAAAARGH!!!!

    This is down to RIPA being written in wooly interpretable language. It would appear to need amending to lock its use down to "serious" offences which would be defined very clearly in schedules. I find it difficult to believe that a Judge agreed to the use of these powers in this case; it's such a complete nonsense when their residency is provable in so many other ways that it doesn't bear thinking about.

    All they had to do was ask for 3 utility bills, a driving licence etc.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Not good excuse at all

    For those that think that it was a good idea 'because it intended to stop criminals'. You should remember that 'good cause' does not necessarily justify the means in a democratic society. Not even in untrivial matters. If cause would justify the means every man in this country should be under constant surveillance because it would help to solve quite a few thousand rape crimes per year. It would also solve murders, childabuse etc. All kind of criminal activities. Just in case. In the rape case it could always be argued that all men are POTENTIAL rapists. Therefore surely constant surveillance WOULD BE A REALLY GOOD THING?

    All humans are potential criminals. What is reasonable? The point is that we would normally expect that there would be A THIRD PARTY who would assess the relevance and importance for a breach of privacy and integrity. This third party is expected to take into consideration not only 'the cause' but also the rights of the individual who is to be investigated. This is why in many democratic countries it requires a court order for legal investigations to encrouch on human rights and intervene in peoples private lifes. It is unreasonable in a modern society that any official with only suspision as grounds would have some automatic right to interfere in peoples private sphere, 'just in case they might be criminals'. It is just not good enough excuse. It is a serious threat towards the whole idea of democratic society. Once a carte blanche is given to institutions to track and survey the population on a whim, the result of this tracking could all too easily be used for unsolicited use. Socio-cultural corruption and abuse due to application drift of powers available.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's Simple Really

    When powers exist they will be used to solve problems the creators didn't consider. When information exists it will be used to answer questions the gatherers didn't consider.

    When processes exist for one thing, people will bend them to fit something they don't have a process for.

    When targets exist, people will make sure they meet them in ways the designers didn't consider.

    You'll probably find that Poole has a KPI of investigating 5 fraudulent applications a year, so if there are only 4, we'll choose the 5th at random so we make the target and get the pay rise, budget increase or whatever. Then find a 6th to show how good they are at delivering tax payer value.

  41. Tim


    Have this come out now because they are just about to admit that they have lost the discs containing the information on this family?

    Actually, the whole grubby exercise is pretty unsurprising. Here in Norwich you used to see the council's CCTV camera pointed into the window of the lingerie dept of M & S. I alerted M & S to this & the council then changed the camera into a globe-type one, so you can't see where it points.

  42. greg

    Definition of criminal

    Well, in my eyes spying citizens for a possible fraudulent school application is a worst crime that said fraudulent application !

    If I got it right, they spy before the fraud occurs, to avoid it. That's not good. If you want a civilised way, you remember the good old "innocent unless proven guilty", let people who want to fraud try it, THEN you punish fraudsters.

    Well I guess people who make donations to the school they'd like their children into don't get that spying first, accept application after treatment...

  43. conan

    Inappropriate Powers

    Poole Council are not the bad guys here - they've been given a job to do and powers to do it with, and they've put the two together. The problem is that the powers they've been given are not appropriate - if you gave a bus driver a remote control that changed traffic lights to green, he'd use it to keep his bus running on time, but everyone else would get home a bit later than normal. You can't blame him for that, he's just trying to do his job the best he can. The problem is when you make up laws that allow that kind of surveillance to happen without having a good system backing it up to ensure it's used in an appropriate manner. I don't know how much surveillance costs, but I'd wager it's probably not much less than an extra place at the school.

  44. Anonymous Coward


    "as quoted in the film V for Vendetta : "People shouldnt be affraid of their Governments - Governments should be scared of their people"..."

    You know, Liam, I don't think that was the first place somebody said that...

  45. Matt

    @Ferry Boat

    Good point.

  46. scott
    Thumb Down

    Bad taste

    “Killed him twice? He got out, performed CPR on the kid, managed to resuscitate him, then got back in his car and drove back over him? That's commitment to getting in the Daily Heil, that is.”

    Yes – sentence was obviously badly composed, due to being between early morning coffees. Still – not quite as bad as making exceedingly bad taste comments about a kid getting killed by a hit-and-run driver.

    The dead child story could have come from the Daily Heil, Torygraph, Grunian, or even Fortean Times – doesn’t really change the fact that in a modern democratic society it now appears acceptable to employ 2 weeks of covert surveillance on the suspicion of trying to get a kid into the same school as his siblings, on the say-so of someone who wasn’t even competent enough to get a real job and went for the cushy “public sector” number instead.

    When you give Police powers to muppets, you get comedy moments like these. If it was really a criminal matter – it should have been up to the Police or the security services to investigate. They’re the ones the vast majority of us accept have such powers, not Joe Halfwit from the local council who probably got 1 GCSE in embroidery and a job in the town hall cos his auntie worked there and put a good word in for him. The person doing the spying *may* have been trained; but he was sent out on the say-so of the people we entrust to empty the bins and organise meals-on-wheels.

  47. The BigYin

    Fraud is not a game

    3 cases were investigated. 2 found to be fraudulent. Will the parents in those 2 cases be prosecuted? If not, why not? Are they MPs or something?

    I do think that invoking RIPA to investigate this is a bit much, as is not disclosing all details in full to the 1 set of innocent parents.

    It worries me that the council sought to invoke these powers and then can't answer simple questions like; has the investigator had a police check or not?

    The council were wrong to use RIPA; they are now being thoroughly negligent after the fact. Heads should roll.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Poole Council are not the bad guys here - they've been given a job to do and powers to do it with, and they've put the two together."

    Not really. If the arguments about the purpose of the RIPA being to allow surveillance in the course of investigating *crime* and the act of misrepresenting yourself to a Council not being a *criminal* fraud, the RIPA is not a power they should put together with the job. It's an inappropriate tool, regardless of whether it's appropriate that a Council should have it or not. The lack of oversight/backup is a separate matter.

    The argument over whether worker A is safe to be let loose with the nailgun is different to the argument over whether worker A should use the nailgun to put something together that ought to use screws.

  49. pAnoNymous
    Black Helicopters

    Who are these people?

    It's seems like more and more unaccountable bureaucrats have been given the authority to intrude into our private lives. But who are these people, what checks have they been through, what are the checks to make sure it's not for personal gain?

    Why does the government think that their bureaucrats can be trusted with all this information but all our lives need be open books to all of them?

    I can just about live with the security services/GCHQ intruding into our private lives when it comes to national security but they go through vigorous checks before they get the job and are observed themselves, they protect the data they have, it's a small group of people carrying out the surveillance and for the most part the reasons are pretty well defined.

    Why were these traits of an authoritarian regime only a few years ago but now it’s necessary for a free democracy? Has the world rally changed that much? Are you all really in so much fear that you are willing to so easily give up your freedoms and rights to a private life?

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I work in Poole...

    I work in Poole and I can see the council offices from my desk. Anyone got any spare surveillance equipment they can lend me?

  51. Tony
    Black Helicopters

    @ Tim

    Similar story; a C & A store in London (I think) had a problem with women going into the cubicles provided as changing rooms and pinching clothes by putting them on under their streetware. They put a surveillance camera up in the rafters as the cubicles had no ceiling panel, so that they could watch out for thieves.

    It only came to light after some time; the male security staff were inviting other male staff to join them. The store manager became suspicious and installed a spyhole camera in the video room to watch the sudden influx of men. He described it as being a bit like a daily stag party, with fags and booze lying around everywhere.

    I was told that the surveillance camera had been in place for almost 2 years!

  52. Slaine

    Good old Human Rights again

    So it is now a crime to care for your children and their education?

    I agree that there is strength to the "goods and services" argument but "education" is neither "good", nor a "service", and since we pay tax as a poulation to maintain the state education system and not as an inndividual to maintain a specific school or to have a specific child educated, it cannot be a case of a "purchase agreement" either. Ironically, if one goes "private" and actually enters into a transaction with a specific school then instead of being arrested for a blatant abuse of the law being upheld here; to wit: obtaining a school place from an "out of area" facility, one simply gets the school that one asked for. The "golden rule of politics" has invaded many places but always it reads the same: "(S)He who has the Gold, makes the Rules".

    There is stipulated within the European Declaration of Human Rights article (26); part 3, "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children"

  53. anarchic-teapot

    the lowest level of local government

    Please get it right: the lowest *form* of local government.

  54. Neil Jones

    Don't Blame RIPA!

    Whilst RIPA is still far from perfect, let's be clear that its introduction didn't suddenly *allow* surveillance, it *regulated it*. Before RIPA there was very little or no effective control over snooping such as this, so to start saying that "RIPA allowed this" is ambiguous and paints a rather misleading picture. It's positive legislation, but like all new acts it take a few years and amendments to get it working properly.

  55. Anonymous Coward

    1984, innit

    One day the Tripods will come and liberate us!

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @The BigYin

    Regarding your statement: "It worries me that the council sought to invoke these powers and then can't answer simple questions like; has the investigator had a police check or not?"

    "It said directed surveillance was carried out by a council officer who was fully trained and authorised to exercise RIPA powers, once it had decided it may be a criminal matter."

  57. Brian McGovern

    "Undermine trust..." ?

    Use of the present tense is a little... umm... idiotic?

    I would suggest there are far better ways to check whether someone lives at a particular address... Any number of tax forms the government already has access to immediately come to mind. Auto insurance next? At least here in the US, in the horrific state of Taxachusetts, the government has access to all kinds of peripheral information that gives a pretty good hint as to where you're living.

    I would suggest the proper word is "evaporate", rather than undermine, and it should be in the past tense, as in "Our insane levels of surveillance has resulted in the complete evaporation of any public trust we may have once enjoyed."

    George Orwell was 25 years early.

  58. Anonymous Coward

    Too much power, not enough control

    What’s the difference between the Police and your local council spy? The Police have less powers.

    What do I mean? Try doing a little bit of “personal research” as a cop, and Police National Computer audit system will flag you and you’ll *will* have to explain to at least your Superintendent why you were checking out the car registration details etc of Ms xyz. If you don’t have a good reason, good chance you’ll lose your job *and* end up in the nick.

    However, mr councilworker *can* get access to Ms xyz’s tax details, car details, telephone numbers etc with almost no fear of being caught – and even if he is caught, he’d be lucky to even get a written caution. He won’t get caught though – as they have neither the technical restrictions nor procedural controls. Then of course there’s the point that more and more services have been outsourced…

    Does nobody remember the “satanic child abuse” scandals of the 80s? Under qualified council workers got themselves into a feeding frenzy and convinced each other there was a major satanic child abuse ring. Over a dozen families were ripped apart, I think more than one person killed themselves – and what a surprised, it turned out to be a load of crap. Point is – local govt employees *cannot* be trusted with police powers. Hell, even the Police can’t really be trusted with the powers they have – but I’d trust them infinitely more than the likes of Poole council.

  59. yeah, right.

    Well done

    Actually, kudos to Poole for showing exactly where this kind of crap is going. Perhaps their abuse of the process will show others exactly what is really possible with these kind of laws on the books. Between RIPA, the most cameras of any nation, national ID databases, shoot-to-kill orders by unaccountable bureaucrats, and the various terrorism acts that allow due process to be defenestrated, I'd say the UK is well on its way to some form of "police" state.

    Not that the semi-literate, Sun reading (well, page 3 or 6 or whereever she is these days), lager swilling yobs that seem to proliferate in the UK seem to give a rats arse.

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boiling Frog

    I guess the changes there have been gradual, or you would have jumped by now.

    Plenty of room in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

  61. Anonymous Coward

    @ David Wiernicki

    Perhaps that's why he used the phrase "as quoted". He wasn't sure where it originated, but he didn't see the need to be a facetious arsehole about it.

    Unlike your good self.

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >"once it had decided it may be a criminal matter."

    As I pointed out though, it's not a criminal matter as fraud only applies to services which charge a fee. So I would expect the council to be truly in the shit..

    @Brian McGovern

    >[better ways to] check whether someone lives at a particular address.

    In the UK the state education system has hit the point where people will buy or rent a small flat or bedsit in the area of a good school and pay tax on it with no intention of living in it - just for the postal address.

  63. Neil Jones

    Police State?

    If you really think that the UK is bordering on becoming a "police state" then I'd suggest that you don't even understand what the term means. To compare the freedoms that you take so much for granted to the living conditions of those who live in *real* police states is risible to the point of being offensive.

  64. Joe

    Re: I'm all for it

    You're all for invasive and unnecessary surveillance by your local council, yet you won't even give your name on the Register comments board?

    I smell a hypocrite!

  65. Anonymous Coward

    @Boiling Frog

    "Plenty of room in Australia, Canada and New Zealand"

    I'll pack me bags now - ah looks like I'll need a visa - oh why can't the border controls be be just like those in good old England.

    - Mine is the one with a wad of money in brown envelope to bribe border officials with.

  66. Joe

    @ Neil Jones

    Yes, you're right, we're a long way from being like East Germany or the People's Republic of China.

    However, it's not an instant thing, it's a sliding scale. (I know it's a horrible comparison, but Hitler didn't start herding Jews into concentration camps on the day he was elected - it was a slow process that took years of small changes of personal liberty. Not that I'm suggesting the UK is like Nazi Germany!)

    Government powers have to be kept in check, or before you know it, we're not such a long way from it after all.

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Neil Jones - Police State?

    >the freedoms that you take so much for granted

    That's the point, we whinge like hell when they move an inch.

    Taking it for granted would be saying things like "Oh well, at least we're not in a real police state, that would be grim."

  68. Alex
    Paris Hilton

    Hold on a second...

    First reaction is... what the hell are they doing? Well over the top!

    ...but then...

    What exactly then is a council suppost to do then if it suspects fraud? Ignore it? Sit on their arses?

    Suggestions please?

  69. John Munyard

    Danger ahead

    Cases like this should make the arguments for the protection of civil liberties stronger.

    During the past 10 years the Government has brought in a sequence of new laws which have chipped away at various aspects of personal privacy, liberty or protection from zealous government interferance.

    For years New Labour has defended the introduction of these measures by offering sop-assurances to the effect that the laws are only intended for reasons such as child protection or anti-terrorism and that we should not worry to much about the actual wordings - we should trust the Government to use the powers responsibly.

    Personally I've always been dubious of making law in such a manner. Those making these changes over the years have deliberately used poor legislative drafting to cast the net widely from a legal perspective for only one reason - so that the law can be 're interpreted' at a later date to encompass wider use without actually having to change the laws again.

    This case shows the shallowness and falsehood of those assurances. This episode demonstrates clearly how Government or local Gov't can utilise these laws for what were probably unintended purposes but with the full support of the legislation nonetheless. In this case powers intended to allow the Government to investigate suspected activities of terrorist and serious criminals have been cast so broadly and handed to so many branches of Government that Poole Council has used them to snoop on the parents of the 3yr old child for what is by any measure a petty cause.

    So what are we to believe? When Jackie Smith stands up in future and assures everyone that thier data is safe with the Government what are we to believe? Are we to trust that the powers and data now held on us by the Government will only be used for thier intended and stated purposes, or should we assume that all these assurances are just a mechanism to persuade us to hand it all over before then using it all freely for any future purpose without opposition?

    This should be a blow for all those simpletons who see the ID Card & NIR as a panacea for all our criminal, terrorist and identity problems. We only have Government's promise that the scope of use of the identity card & NIR will not creep, we are supposed to trust all these Government employees to access and use thier powers responsibly, and not snoop, use the data for personal purposes, or sell it on to marketing companies.

    Cases like this prove that the Governments assurances aren't worth the paper thier printed on. More to the point the law is drafted so badly there is neither legal protection or redress available to us. We cannot accept further extension of Government powers or the introduction of the NIR in these circumstances - it would be like posting all your personal details to a 419 scammer.

  70. chris

    Worrying nomenclature?

    It is always worrying when governments begin to use terms like Ministry of Justice as you would think that the institutions actions are what should remind you of its core values not its name.

    Here we have the head of legal and DEMOCRATIC services, just in case people in Poole forgot they were in a democracy?

  71. Wayland Sothcott

    Yes, Police State

    More and more 'authorities' are getting police powers. Doormen, you know the people who never let you into clubs because of the wrong shoes, they have to be licenced, I heard they are doing their jobs illegally due to a computer failure in issuing them. Shops have to police who can buy fags and alcohol. Oh and the Confidential Terrorist Hotline 0800 789321 where even ordinary folk can report terrorists. These are forming a hirachy with the real police at the top with authority filtering down through various levels of plastic police. Neighbourhood Watch could be given Shoot to Kill rights ;-) Seriously the main police force may be under staffed but the plastic police are growing.

  72. Pierre


    "To compare the freedoms that you take so much for granted to the living conditions of those who live in *real* police states is risible to the point of being offensive."

    I am not from the UK, though I've been visiting ol'Blighty a couple of times. It IS turning into a *very real* police state. A laughable, Marx Bros-loke police state where the government spies on citizens then gives details away on CDs and/or laptops, but not less dangerous than serious, well organised ones.


    The kind of procedure used here is EXACTLY at the same level as following your car day and night for 2 weeks waiting for you to drive a bit to fast, park slightly improperly, use horn in town or whatever.

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    'What exactly then is a council suppost to do then if it suspects fraud? Ignore it? Sit on their arses?'

    'Suggestions please?'

    Oooh I dunno, have someone from the education authority call the parents in for a nice chat/interview during which their address is discussed and they are reminded about the rules over catchment areas?

  74. davenewman
    Black Helicopters

    Little Hitlers

    After WWII, people like these council officials were called little Hitlers. That is why Britain did not keep identity cards.

    I call on every newspaper and blogger to revive the term little Hitlers when talking about these bastards.

  75. Ishkandar


    As "Silas" said above, a simple check on the council tax records should show who actually lives there !! These council mandarins use this method simply because it is there and they can use it and they are too lazy to stir their lard-arses to do any checking of records themselves !!

    Having said that, I heard of a house that was an address to more than ten kids of the same age applying to go to a school that is highly sought after !! So far, I have not heard of dectuplets from FOUR different races yet !!

  76. Ash
    Thumb Down

    Oh yeah?

    If I ever spot a guy sitting outside my house watching my children, i'm heading outside with a baseball bat and a meat cleaver and cutting him into pieces.

    Anonymous? Fuck that. If they want to arrest me for trying to protect my children from HORRIBLE DIRTY DANGEROUS TERRO^h^h^h^h^hPAEDOPHILES, they can join the guy in the van.

    (I don't have any kids, but I guess I made my point.)

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brits and the Americans

    Seem to be in a race to who can pass the most ludicrous absurd laws that strip people of their freedoms in the name of anti terror.

    Atleast with the cold war the was this idea we needed to protect freedom, our way of life and not create a nanny state. If they insist on this nanny state , I want to sit on my fat lazy ass and collect welfare. If the state wants to act like my mom and dad they should support me like I'm their child.

  78. Andy

    re: "Governments should be afraid of people"

    They already are. Why do you think they are spying on us?

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "When you give Police powers to muppets, you get comedy moments like these..."

    That and a Seargent who runs around with a knife going, "Bork bork bork!"

    (Sorry if that was facetious, Anonymous Coward. I'm a slave to my passions.)

  80. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    We should be firing folk

    I think the local council should be getting their coat!

  81. Chris
    Thumb Up

    Go for it.

    I'm anti ID card, I don't have loyalty cards, I don't use a registered Oyster Card. etc. etc.

    And yet. What do we actually have here? A council checking that someone is actually living where they say and not defrauding the system at the expense of (possibly less well off) local parents.

    I'm afraid I'm with the council with this one. Whether or not the surveillance was a misuse of the investigatory powers, the surveillance itself was a reasonable idea.

  82. pete
    Thumb Down

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear ....

    that is how the argument goes isn't it :S

  83. Pierre

    @ Michael on RIPA and phorm

    "The other day as I pointed out, you were all salivating at how great RIPA was because it made Phorm illegal. Now it's the worst piece of legislation ever passed once again"

    Why do you dephorm the facts like that? IF the RIPA makes Phorm illegal, that's just coincidental good luck, and it doesn't make RIPA a good thing. Phorm scheme is dangerous and the fact that it breaks RIPA is only a tool that can and must be used (yes, I do have shameless situationist tendancies). But it also breaks a number of other things, like the trust between ISPs and customers, the right to privacy (which exists independently of RIPA) and network safety. The present story just further proves that the UK is indeed a police state now, and if noones stands against this kind of things while it's still possible, it will soon be very comparable to the USSR under Staline's reign.The UK and the US are already too far down this road, as proven by the fact that opposing to violation of one's privacy is considered as a suspect behaviour /per se/. Shut up now and next thing you'll know will be "them" coming for you.

  84. Gary

    The Answer

    May I suggest finding out the names of the heads of the department/s involved. (Freedom of Information and other such Skullduggery.) Follow them them to and from work regularly, check that thier motor vehicles are taxed, ensure they commit no parking and/or driving offences.When vehicles are spotted outside peoples houses enforcing this RIPA bollix circle the cars several tinmes to ensure that they are not prowlers and/or terrorists. Get police to check that they are indeed Pooles of Piss,(sorry couldnt resist it!) There are not that many turds doing this work,and said turds should soon get the message, especially when they get followed home and the good old unmarked white van spends time at their abode.


  85. david Silver badge

    "Poole Council are not the bad guys here"

    "- they've been given a job to do and powers to do it with"

    That excuse went out with Auswitchs.

  86. andrew bence
    Thumb Up

    ‘Local council uses snooping laws to spy on three-year-old

    Felt enraged at abuse of system when i first heard of this,the remembered that someone has to get my 5 year old the best part of 2 miles to school when we`re ~600 yards away from the nearest one (apparently catchment area counts for something).Wish I could have bought another house on it`s doorstep,that may have worked. `Think of the dead polar bears etc due to the extra CO2 generated (Al Gore`s already sobbing)`.

  87. Charles Smith
    Black Helicopters

    Poole Council ineffective

    The problem with Poole Council's approach is that it is expensive and ineffective. All that these criminal parents need to do is to maintain the appearance of living at the address near the school for the duration of the surveillance period. It would be much more cost efficient if children from Poole schools were fitted with a GPS location monitoring ankle tag. In that way conformance with the school policy could be ensured long term.

    Such as device would be cost effective in reducing the labour needed to take attendance roll calls at the school. The devices could be linked to the Children's database and the school canteen/library fingerprint readers to help prevent impostors.

  88. josh

    not surprised

    being someone who, when not at uni lives 20miles from Poole im not surprised at all it can be a very snooty place among the higher classes. aside from that surely we will hear in a few weeks of legal preceedings being made against the council? heres hoping!

  89. David Pickering

    saw this coming

    ill try and act suprised to avoid suspicion :/

    alien icon because its all f*cking rediculous

  90. Steve D

    What the full force of RIPA should be used for..

    Is catching the dirty bastards who fail to clean up after their dogs. And then make them eat it up with a spoon.

  91. The Other Steve

    Hairy, and difficult to digest

    This is a hairy one, and no mistake.

    I mean, I have to agree, it certainly sounds a little disproportionate, and it's certainly unsettling. (It was also pointless, as the surveillance in this case took place after the cut off date for residence in the catchment area).

    Unfortunately, it is now the case that parents are prepared to cheat real bad. Just asking to see council tax bills, etc, is no longer sufficient.

    Utility bills and the like aren't enough either, because they can't prove that the named recipient actually _resides_ at the property, which AFAIK is the criteria. As someone mentioned above, some parents have been known to buy or rent property within catchment areas with no intention of actually residing there just to get their kids into their first choice school.

    So if an LEA suspect fraudulent (or dishonest, or whatever) behaviour, less intrusive options just aren't going to cut it. They can be, and indeed have been, gamed.

    The only real way to confirm a persons residence, if you feel that you can't rely on such paperwork as they produce, is to go and have a shufty. Which is exactly what they did.

    This makes me uncomfortable, but I honestly can't see what choice the LEA were left with, and blaming it on RIPA is fallacious. They could easily have hired a PI to do this pre RIPA, but they wouldn't have had to get permission for it. RIPA did _not_ grant the 'power' to mount directed surveillance. It _does_ seek to define and regulate such 'powers' within a particular legal framework. Hence the name.

    Whether following them around for three weeks was really necessary, or cost effective, is definitely an argument worth having (in this case it's a short one, because it was done after the cut off date, and even if it had been shown to be the case that they lived somewhere else, it would have been largely irrelevant).

    Of course, if the education system wasn't so FUBARd, parents wouldn't resort to extreme underhand means, and there would therefore be no need to mount surveillance on them to make sure they weren't gaming the catchment system.

    So it seems to be the case that a massive inefficiency in a state sector leaves it with little choice but to put citizens under surveillance. That's a scary fucking place to be whichever way you look at it.

  92. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love the justifications..

    I like this one best:

    "A criminal act was committed (in 2 of the 3 cases they investigated)"

    That is actually irrelevant. That is about the same situation as you have in Germany where the tax office broke German law by handling, sorry, fencing stolen goods from Liechtenstein and spreading that abuse of (AFAIK, IANAL) international law that tries to prevent crime becoming profitable (it still does, but those idiots have given data theft crime a serious shot in the arm).

    Before they can exercise such powers they need evidence first. It must be a reasonable suspicion that you're doing something wrong. Let me put it a different way: even if I tell your local copper you're up to no good he will still need to ask permission before he comes into your house, searches through the history file on your PC (uh oh - all those Register cookies) and otherwise takes your whole life apart. You've got nothing to hide? Fine, but why do you close the curtains then at night? What do you earn annually? (I said earn, not deserve).

    The problem isn't just the specific offence, it's the whole legal fabric it tears with it. If you want evidence of just what happens when the powers that be declare themselves above the law in a supposedly "democratic" country, look no further than the US. Search for "signing notices" and you'll see what I mean.

  93. Danger Mouse

    Who gives a feck?

    When applying for a job do you expect a background check?

    When applying for a loan do you expect a credit check?

    When applying for a school place in a certain catchment area do you not expect to be checked that you actually live in the catchment area? WTF.

    <puts on fire proof pants>

  94. Moss Icely Spaceport
    Black Helicopters

    Big Brother

    All your 3 year olds are belong to us!

  95. Anonymous Coward


    What exactly are you guys still doing in the sh1t hole that is the UK? So many better countries are crying out for IT staff so there really is no excuse.

    Do what I did and emigrate - then you can read stories like this and laugh at just how crap "home" has got!

    I'll just grab my coat now - oh, no, far too hot here; I don't need one!

  96. Tony Paulazzo

    All good points

    but why am I paying £1000+ a year on council tax when they feel they can just use it on whatever they want? Accountability needs to be put back on the agenda. So now they know where the kid lives, if the parents want their kid to go to a school fifty miles away, why can't they?


    >A common feature of democracy as currently understood and practiced is competitive elections. Competitive elections are usually seen to require freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and some degree of rule of law. Civilian control of the military is often seen as necessary to prevent military dictatorship and interference with political affairs. In some countries, democracy is based on the philosophical principle of equal rights.< Thanks to Wikipedia.

    needs to be back on the agenda. Equal rights, the right to choose where your child goes to school, the right to not be snooped, spied or targeted ad upon, the right to watch how YOUR government does their job.

    I've written to, amongst others, the PM, my European MP, my local MP about Phorm and had two responses, my local MP sent me a BT/Phorm info sheet and thanked me for writing him, and my MEP agreed to disliking Phorm, but that the situation was a UK gov decision type thing. Gordon hasn't responded to my letter yet.

    ...err, but back to my point, council tax is too much, and when I read how they're using/wasting it, I start to see red. Ten years ago they promised an ace education/health system, far as I can see it's the same old same old.

    Give the anarchist a cigarette. 'Chumbawumba'

  97. The Other Steve


    "even if I tell your local copper you're up to no good he will still need to ask permission before he comes into your house, searches through the history file on your PC (uh oh - all those Register cookies) and otherwise takes your whole life apart."

    Exactly. And now, under the terms of RIPA, Poole council had to do just that. Prior to RIPA, they could have done exactly the same without seeking any kind of authorisation, and outside of any kind of regulatory framework. Under RIPA they had to apply for a Directed Surveillance authorisation.

    So RIPA actually makes it more difficult (if only marginally so).

    This is the major misconception around this story, IMHO. No one "used RIPA powers" to "spy", they had to obtain authorisation for it, document it and do it properly (although they probably fouled up that last part) because if they didn't, they would have been guilty of a criminal offence under RIPA. Can we all see how that's different, regardless of how we feel about the actual behaviour ?

  98. CCTVKilledTheRadioStar

    Where does it end?

    In a world where a parent is not permitted to take pictures of their child on a school sports day. how, in the name of any god, can a council get away with tail gating, videoing, and photographing a three year old??

    Ask yourselves, was the person that authorised this op a sick pervert? Because that's what they would be asking anyone else that took this much interest in a childs comings and goings!

  99. Ted Treen


    At one time, Government - both national and local (especially local) had a fair degree of altruism, and generally recognised that it was there to serve its electorate.

    Now the boot is on the other foot, and the unholy alliance of Incapability Brown and The Straw Man has shown that all forms of government today is the last refuge of the terminally incompetent. - and regarding The Straw Man, why is it that ex-commies are so damned authoritarian and anti-freedom once they reach office? Must be all that time spent studying Uncle Joe.

    The sole purpose of the electorate now is to serve the almighty state - we are the worker bees, Incapability fancies himself as Queen Bee but there is a definitely unnatural number of drones in his hive.

    Muggers, buggers, robbers & rapists will always be lightly dealt with - after all, they are merely picking on another worker bee (or "Taxation Revenue Unit" in Brown's Brave New World) - but just let OAPs object to the profligate waste of their excessive Council Tax, or parents be sufficiently middle-class as to have some hopes for their offspring and try to get them into a school which hasn't been reduced to the lowest common denominator by (Talking) Balls, and they are enemies who go up against the authority of the state behemoth. This of course, cannot be tolerated.

    No doubt the Ministry for Justice (copyright George Orwell) will soon be "The Committee for State Security", you will be stopped on the streets and checked by a CHEKA, and statues of Felix will abound.

    Mine's the one with GULAG written across the back.

  100. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not surprised

    In the state of New Jersey it is not uncommon for school districts to use detectives to determine that a child in fact lives in the next district over and is using some subterfuge to attend this one. The average house, perhaps even the average McMansion doesn't bring in enough property tax revenue to support the cost of of schooling one child there, so the districts are sensitive about outsiders. During slow news cycles, the NY Times will sometimes run articles about this.

    As for three years old, I don't think they go that far.

  101. Tom Kelsall

    One thing that no-one's answered is...

    (well, not DEFINITIVELY anyway)

    IS IT AN OFFENCE to mis-state your residence in order to obtain a school place? You're not paying for it, so it doesn't meet the definition of a "Service" in the Fraud Act, and you gain no monetary advantage from it. So - is it an offence? I don't think so. In the two cases out of three in which the council say that a criminal Act was committed,what was the offence? Were the perps found guilty in a Court? Or is this the council bigging up their results just a bit? Is that Fraud, too?

  102. Richard Gadsden

    Is it a crime?

    A very good question, and the new fraud act (2006) hasn't been tested sufficiently in court to be sure how much it cares about non-pecuniary advantage.

  103. Zorro

    To anonymous cowards

    To those few anonymous cowards defending Poole council.

    If you would not do the same for your children that these parents did then you are a **** and should be sterilised immediately.

    More importantly what on earth was the cost of this? Stop wondering why our council tax has gone through the f*cking roof since this bunch of authoritarian bastards took control of our country. We now know. 1000 requests for this kind of surveillance EVERY WEEK from councils around the country. How much does each of those cost, whats the total cost? Time for some FOI requests methinks.

    Lastly, does ANYONE now think that New Labour sees 1984 as anything other than a manual of operations?

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