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Local authorities launched 10,000 snooping operations last year

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Christopher Hope
London Telegraph
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More than half a million requests for highly personal communications data, such as records of private telephone calls and e-mails, were also lodged by councils and law enforcement agencies.

Snooping by local authorities has now become so widespread that a Government watchdog has threatened to strip councils of their powers to spy on people, and Gordon Brown has ordered an inquiry into the rapid increase in the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

It is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding Ripa, which in one case earlier this year was used by a council to mount a covert surveillance operation on a family who had been wrongly accused of breaking rules on school catchment areas.

(Article continues below)

Opposition MPs said the new figures showed evidence of a “creeping Orwellian state”, while the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, Sir Christopher Rose, said some councils were guilty of using Ripa in a “disproportionate” way.

Ripa was originally brought in to help police and the security services combat serious crime and terrorism, but in recent years nearly 800 public bodies have been added to the list of organisations allowed to use the Act to carry out covert surveillance and intercept personal communications.

Privacy campaigners including David Davis, the former shadow home secretary who resigned to campaign against the erosion of civil liberties, say the use of Ripa has spiralled out of control, partly because spying can be authorised by junior town hall officials rather than having to be approved by a judge.

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This article was posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 4:14 am

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