back to article Snoop-happy councils warned off RIPA abuse

The head of the Local Government Association (LGA) has today warned every council in England to restrict how their investigators use new surveillance powers, or risk losing public support. Sir Simon Milton's letter follows a recent rash of news stories exposing how councils nationwide have been using the Regulation of …


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  1. Dave
    Black Helicopters

    So thats all right then!

    "Whilst it is a matter for each council to determine for its area, our advice is that, save in the most unusual and extreme of circumstances, it is inappropriate to use these powers for trivial matters." He also noted that RIPA calls for spying powers to be used only when "necessary and proportionate to prevent or detect a criminal offence".

    In other words, we've got to be seen to be doing something, but this won't change a thing

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a local matter

    "Whilst it is a matter for each council to determine for its area"

    No, it isn't, the right to privacy is a basic right written into law. It's not up to the council to decide that privacy can be removed for littering or whatever, it's for the courts to decide.

    If you want public support, then each case should be reviewed by a judge. If it's not important enough to get a warrant then why is it important enough to spy on people?

    Surely if you are claiming 'fraud' (like the local council vetting people who apply for a school place did), then they can get a warrant?

    Imagine how insane that is, a Council can obtain records of everyone you've called or who has called you, with nothing more than a letter asking for it.

    The request is kept secret, so if they're misusing the power you would never know and would never be able to challenge.

    The ombudsman is only informed if the council informs him, and even then he is a toothless watchdog intended to present an air of auditing to these.

  3. Secretgeek

    First off...

    RIPA is not anti-terror legislation. Yes it can be used for that but it's original purpose was for the prevention and detection of crime. This hang up on 'anti-terror' is just media hype.

    Second, RIPA is a fantastically badly written piece of law. It was rushed through to counter the effects of Human Rights Act (which basically said 'thou shalt not spy on anyone - unless your law says it's legal to' which ours didn't.)

    Thirdly, local authorities are quite specifically only allowed to use RIPA for the prevention and detection of crime. If they have, as the reports suggest, being using it for dog turd droppers then the recipient of the fine has particularly good grounds not only to get the fine dropped like a tab end but for getting the council bollocked for inappropriate surveillance.

    As bad as it is, this isn't an issue of 'new' spying laws or even of government big brother. It's basically some council jobsworths with bad oversight deciding that as they've got some bright and shiny cameras why not try and make a few of the gazillion quid they've spent on them back by collaring fag droppers and turd leavers.

    In fairness, I don't particulalry mind it. People who leave behind the turds of their dogs should have their face rubbed in it to make sure they don't do it again.

  4. Ash
    Thumb Down

    Who DIDN'T expect that?

    Terrorist threats identified using RIPA? None.

    UK Citizens arrested for letting their dog crap on the pavement using RIPA? If it's more than 'None', the law needs to be thrown out.

  5. 3x2

    Dog mess indeed

    <...>RIPA calls for spying powers to be used only when "necessary and proportionate to prevent or detect a criminal offence".<..>

    Erm by the Police and Security services. What exactly are local councils doing getting involved in criminal or terrorist investigations in the first place?

    Allowing minor local functionaries this kind of power is the sort of madness we expected from Eastern Europe decades ago.

  6. Dunstan Vavasour

    Entirely the wrong approach

    Councils simply shouldn't have these powers. He's saying "play nicely or people will rumble that we shouldn't be able to snoop on them", after the tabloid press for once highlighted a proper target: councils using "anti-terrorist" powers to spy on people who've aplied for popular schools.


  7. gareth

    @ secretgeek

    first off

    not clearing up dog turd and littering are technically crimes under the environmental protection act 1990 (as ammended by several hundred newer acts and regulations) by not clearing up after your dog / littering you are not complying with the duty of care requirements of waste handeling which is the same legislation used for fly tippers. it is a requirement of the waste producer to ensure that it is disposed of correctly or transfered to an appropriatly licenced waste handler.

    as for following people home to ensure they live in the correct district this is an abuse of the powers as i cann't see what harm has een done (i.e. if the grandparents or whoever live in that district then they are paying council tax for the education of children aswell as the parents)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can see both sides of this...

    Being an Ex Councillor I know just how frustrating it is to continuously spend time and money clearing up after people's anti-social behaviour, which is getting worse by the way.

    The public are only too happy to complain about litter, dog fouling, parking on pavements, fly tipping, noise and just about anything else, but when it comes to standing up and being counted they are crap, the see nothing. The Police are useless, and have palmed much of the enforcement of this kind of thing on to local authorities, and spend most of their life filling in forms anyway.

    So what, do you expect the local authorities to do then, they are not policemen, they aren't trained to deal with situations in the same way as the police nor do they have the authority too. For their own safety they have to use remote enforcement methods, and I don't blame them.

    Doesn't mean I have to like it though.

    Oh there is an alternative though, you could become a law abiding citizen and so not have to worry about it. And just think next time you drop your chewing gum and litter on the pavement, if you and everyone else put stuff in the bins, councils wouldn't be using these methods. The don't spend money just because they can you know.

  9. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down


    "[...] its call for restraint was backed by all three Westminster party leaders."

    At least one of these leaders is a member of the Party that, in 2003, allowed David Blunkett to wave through an expansion of the number of organisations able to invoke the act from nine to seven hundred and ninety two...!

  10. Tim

    Criminal dog owners

    @Secretgeek - I agree with the spirit of your post but I'm afraid you're wrong about the status of dog fouling. It most certainly is a crime, under the EPA amongst others.

  11. Mark

    Re: First off...

    First off, when the legislation was put before the commons, it was all about how it was necessary for the war on terror to ensure our safety.

    The LAW never mentioned this.

    But since the politicians were stampeded into saying yes or being against our safety, the reason for the law that was stated is CENTRAL to how it should be applied.

    If the discussion was "we need this to stop dog owners letting their pooches poop on our pavements", I doubt many would have said "OK".

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "RIPA is not anti-terror legislation. "

    I'm with elReg on that, the justification is there right in the first paragraph of RIPA, the intention of RIPA was clear.

    "An Act to make provision for and about the interception of communications, ... to the carrying out of their functions by the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; and for connected purposes."

    So RIPA was drafted for "Security service" "Secret Intelligence Service" and GCHQ. No mention of 'local council dog poop' in the intro.

    2002 Added local authorities (and a bunch of other agencies, even politicaly controlled ones) to the list of agency. This causes a backlash, people are very unhappy that any local official can have a look at their private phone, and other records.

    2003 Sought to address the backlash with a 'code of practise' and a 'commissioner'. A few sops, essentially the core problem remained, non judges issuing letters equivalent to legal warrants without the right to consider the privacy right.

    2004 Leveraged the EU mutual assistence treaty to extend RIPA to intercepting info for non UK people, and also non UK countries can require the RIPA data.

    2005, Port authorities added to RIPA, now the Port of Liverpool can demand your records, without a warrant. Nuclear police (the private security agency that protects nuclear power stations) get the snoop powers too. Snoop powers for everyone!

    2006 we had the demands for data retention in the EU, 'for national security purposes'. Effectively this killed the right of privacy by allowing data to be stored for people not suspected of crime.

    2007 further expansion of RIPA.

    By 2008 the data grabbed in 2006 is being made available for other purposes other than national security, see Home office recent internal memos. + data mining of all stored data.

    By 2010 I expect all Brown/Smith will have all transaction monitored for every purpose with no right to privacy.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Ash; "Dog walkers" should get all they deserve.

    Cathing people who fail to clear up after their dogs is an entirely proper use of RIPA. Have you tried to navigate a baby-buggy and a 3 year old child through the minefield left by one of these selfish oafs' mutts?

    Generally I agree with El Reg's view that we are slipping into a police state, but lazy dog walkers need to be forced to eat up their pet's excrement with a spoon (perhaps only on a third offence) and RIPA will generate the evidence required for a conviction.

  14. DR

    and why shouldn't they

    Survey on people?

    IMO, there isn't enough survelance in parks, it a child can go into a park and stepin/roll in, fallin /pick up dog shite then there is clearl someone who has broken the law and made what was once and still should be a clean and safe place for kids to play into an area of land littered with what is essentially sewage.

    perhaps the dog walkers should pick up their dongs shit, and since they don't then i feel it's perfectly reasonable to have park attendants actually watch to see who it is that won't pick up after their dog, and ensure that they are punished for breaking the law.

    Where the issue of dogs crapping on the grass is concerned, you're not into the realms of black helicopters following all dog walkers down the street. you're looking at a bunch of people who are shrugging their responsibility getting pictured in the act.

    people who cheat benefits getting caught.

    this is the ideal situation. the local councils are able to take responsibility for ensuring that the law is followed, and the streets are safe and clean, whilst allowing local police to get on with real policing business.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    @dog turds

    "People who leave behind the turds of their dogs should have their face rubbed in it to make sure they don't do it again."

    Hear, Hear! :-)

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Gaulieters Rule!!

    They will hate it if their powers to snoop are curtailed. They, like the cops, want more powers - just in case they need them. Spineless NuLab are all for giving officious busybodies and such all sorts of powers as they request. Some they'd not even dreamed of asking for, as they did not think any sane government would grant them. 42 days detention ring a bell with anyone?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    If these laws are not for use in certain circumstances...

    ... then the wording of the law should say so. It doesn't because Labour hires illiterate mentally retarded wombats from the planet Stupid to write the text of its laws.

  18. Anonymous Coward


    Death's too good for them

  19. Robert Harrison


    "perhaps the dog walkers should pick up their dongs shit,"

    That brought one of those uncontrollable smiles to my face.

    Needless to say, I chose the icon with the guy rummaging through pockets for a pooper scooper.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "more serious transgressions such as fly tipping"

    The act was brought in asa necessary tool in the fight against terrorism, and yet fly tipping is judged to be serious enough to use it?


    There are a lot of offences I would rate worse than fly tipping but not serious enough that the council had the right to spy - even murder doesn't automatically qualify. Going down the list, we have rape, violent assault, armed robbery, robbery, blackmail, anti-social behaviour, shoplifting, littering, allowing a dog to foul the pavement and many more. Of those, which suspects deserve to lose their liberties?

    How about we recognise that this legislation had one specific use when it was drafted, and stick to that?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Liberty Land

    "The public are only too happy to complain about litter, dog fouling, parking on pavements, fly tipping, noise and just about anything else, but when it comes to standing up and being counted they are crap,"

    Yeh, we should have compulsary DNA, so that any chewing gum found can be tracked back to the individual and the chewing gum stuck in their hair.

    Dogs should have their DNA taken too, any dog poop can be checked for residual dog DNA and traced back to their owners to have dog poop smeared in their faces.

    The cameras that already monitor cars who stop to let out school kids, could be used to monitor people. Add a barcode to their foreheads to make for easier scanning.

    Councils could form vigilante units to shoot repeat offenders.

    We could put a fence around Britain, add some concession stores, a few fenced walkways, a drive through area with some signs warning visitors not to open their windows or leave their cars, and us Europeans could come visit, for a laugh.

    Spying on people is anti-social too. Wasting tax payer money is anti-social. Invading people's privacy is anti-social. Assuming guilt of many to catch one or two is anti-social. But hey, bears shit in the woods? OMG how anti-social!

  22. Anonymous Coward

    I'd write...

    ... 'I told you so' in the dust. But there's a CCTV camera pointing right at me.

  23. Secretgeek

    Fine, fine!

    I bow to the weight of more knowledgable commentators that letting your dog crap everywhere is a criminal offence.

    Man, that'll teach me to not do my research.

    And if you're correct - let's fire up those closed circuit badboys and catch us some poopers!

  24. Anonymous Coward

    If police had a day without crimes being committed

    they'd find a person, make up a crime, and arrest the person just to keep from being bored. Once massive spying power is conferred on the government, sordid employees can abuse the power so they can find individuals who made imagined slights against them, and make their life a living hell, for no better reason than because they could. It's not the guilty people who should be afraid, they're already know they're going to get it eventually. It's the innocent people who should be afraid. Anyone who knows a police officer knows that most of them lose their belief in humanity early on, and subsequently look upon everyone as guilty of something (justifying any action they choose beforehand).

    If you want a return of brutal feudalism, keep giving the government and police more power. They will return your trust with blood - yours.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Local Authorities Snooping?

    Local Authorities were using listening devices to prove or disprove statutory noise for years before RIPA came into existence. If you live next door to a neighbour causing a noise nuisance in the early hours of the morning, the only recourse may be to have noise monitoring equipment installed for the LA to electronically witness it to take further legal proceedings. Noise Nuisance is actionable by issuing a legal Enforcement Notice under the Environmental Protection Act. Non-compliance could lead to court and if found guilty, it IS a criminal offence. As for turd-leavers.... post it back through their door!

    Maybe all the people shouting about their freedom wouldn't mind so much if their lives were being made hell from sleep deprivation from noisy neighbours. If you're not doing anything wrong in life, why should you worry? Simplistic, maybe?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Local Authorities Snooping

    Yes, I do have a noise problem where I'm living and I'm dealing with it. Now please get real for a moment, there is a world of difference between a neighbor measuring noise levels in their own home and dodgy council workers being given an excuse for following young schoolgirls around whenever they feel the urge.

  27. Anonymous Coward


    Given the financial restraints imposed on LA's, I find it ludicrous to find people actually believe they have the time, money or inclination to squander scarse resources on 'following young schoolgirls whenever they feel the urge'. The same goes for the misguided belief LA's get involved in fighting terrorism, isn't that primarily a Police role?

    No, YOU get real! I used Stat Nuisance of an example of LA's being obliged to abide by RIPA. They still use good old-fashioned street patrols (with vetted, Professional Officers) to fine the dirty bast#!ds who feel it acceptable to tarnish the streets with their litter and dog turds.

  28. andy
    Thumb Down

    @I can see both sides of this...

    Sounds like a very one-sided view to me.

    You now have wardens going round giving people on the spot fines in the street -- why the hell do you need the powers to check phone records, car number plates and god knows what else?

    It's using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

    If we're going to have this legislation they should fully open it up to the public -- it's only fair. After all, if you're going to have 800 companies able to use RIPA you may as well make it available to the other 12 people in britain who cant currently use it...

  29. Anonymous Coward

    In my day...

    We used to follow the dog owner to their home, wait until they were gone and then place the offending pile into the intake of their air conditioning unit (always pleasant on an extremely hot summer day) or under the car door handle. And yes, you use a plastic baggie to pick it up, the kind responsible dog owners use.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "They still use good old-fashioned street patrols (with vetted, Professional Officers) to fine the dirty bast#!ds who feel it acceptable to tarnish the streets with their litter and dog turds."

    Clearly they aren't doing so enough, or in the right places/times.

    RIPA is not appropriate for this stuff, but I do quite agree that dog owners should be made to clear up, by Bobbies on the Beat !!!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Memories of the communist state!

    Without doubt this RIPA legislation is being abused by 'nosey-parker jobsworths' in our local councils. They're like kids with a new toy on Christmas morning, eager to use use & abuse this law in whichever way they see fit so they can tell their 'mates' about it in the pub and impress their girlfriends with tales on 'national security' snooping. Snooping on parents that may live just outside school catchment areas and dog lovers that let their filthy animals defecate all over public areas and children's play areas.

    Why do we need such Orwellian state legislation to prevent irresponsible dog owners letting their dogs leave Toxicara infested piles of scat all over the place?, why not just make their owners eat it on a sesame seed bun, garnished with yellow dog p*ss?, this may make them think twice about letting these filthy animals empty their bowels in whatever place they see fit!

  32. fred

    Check out the site

    Milton wrote: "Whilst it is a matter for each council to determine for its area, our advice is that, save in the most unusual and extreme of circumstances, it is inappropriate to use these powers for trivial matters."

    Therefore, it is appropriate to use RIPA for trivial matters in extreme and unusual circumstances.

  33. Mike

    It's all a load of poo

    I think this country has much more to worry about than who's dogs shite where and what school little Johnny goes too. Fact is, the cameras are not ding what they are supposed to do and thats deter / detect real crime. The camera opposite my house is currently pointing at someones window and has been for the last 3 days. Are the operators perving? What happened to the privacy zones these cameras should be programmed with (ie. no snooping into peoples windows)

    Its been proven so far that our camera state has only detected 3% of crime, compare this to the costs of running such systems, they should be scrapped. Cameras run by local authorities is just another excuse to spy on us normal everyday citizens whilst in reality, they don't prevent and detect real crime. I'm fed up with being snooped apon when I'm walking, shopping, driving, having a meal out, having a pint out and probably whilst I'm having a dump in a public toilet somewhere. When has any of these cameras contributed to busting a terrorist or drugs cartel? Never.Congratulations for all the Dog Shit detection! Horrah for watching little johnny go to school, What a feat which costs us millions of pounds to have these jobs worth, perving camera operators film our every movement.

    What a weak nation this pathetic island has become!

  34. Secretgeek


    @ Mycho I've read the posts and I may have missed it but I'm pretty sure that no-one mentioned council workers 'following young schoolgirls around whenever they feel the urge'.

    Have you just given us an enlightening insight into your foetid imagination?

    Or was it just your run of the mill Freudian slip? ;-)

    Seriously, I work for a council and I haven't followed any schoolgirls around....

    ...since the court order.

    Plastic mac please.

  35. Secretgeek


    You're only jealous.

  36. robin maddison

    Pooh Trees

    Would offenders please refrain from bagging their dog shit and then hanging it from trees or chucking it at the path side(Why do they do this?). It takes light years to break down, and it confuses my dog!

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