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Massive British Local Government Spying

March 26, 2009

Details obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed the extent of the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 by Britain’s 182 Local Authorities. The Act has apparently been used to authorise surveillance on over 10,000 occasions for monitoring acts that are mostly trivial. Only 9% of these resulted in any kind of prosecution or enforcement action. This, to me, indicates massive abuse of surveillance by local governments, and they must be controlled. Almost everyone thinks this now, and the government is currently conducting a review of RIPA (due the embarrassment caused by the constant stream of revelations).

This doesn’t go far enough. RIPA is simply bad legislation that was justified in parliament by reference to crime and terrorism. It is poorly overseen and its Tribunal for complaints – yes, there is one, not that anyone knows – is practically invisible. It should be repealed and a more carefully thought out law on the use of surveillance by public bodies with proper provision for judicial oversight, public accountability and post-legislative scrutiny should be introduced.

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