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Council snoops use anti-terror laws to spy on punt operators

Friday, September 12, 2008

Council spies have been using anti-terror laws and hidden CCTV cameras to monitor the punting trade, it has emerged.

Covert surveillance was used in a bid to catch independent punt operators collecting customers from undesignated spots along the River Cam in Cambridge.

Cambridge City Council mounted two cameras under a pavilion roof to spy on punters and council staff took hundreds of photographs.

The use of the cameras was authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).


Richard Taylor, 28, a Cambridge resident has called for a review of ‘heavy handed’ use of the legislation.

He said: ‘These are draconian powers, their use needs to be proportionate and firmly under democratic control.

‘The monitoring of independent punters is just the sort of case where the proportionality of CCTV deployment is controversial and questionable and ought to be reviewed.’

But Labour councillor Lewis Herbert believes the council was justified in using the cameras, for health and safety reasons.

He said: ‘Last summer independents were lined up all along the river preventing others from enjoying it. The council has used the cameras to drive out this kind of thing.’

RIPA was introduced in 2000 ‘in the interests of national security’ to investigate trivial offences.

Only nine organisations, including the police and security services, were allowed to use the Act when it was introduced.