Council snooping must be stopped, Home Office admits

The use of anti-terrorism surveillance powers for snooping by local councils will be put to an end, the Home Office has said.

The use of high-tech surveillance powers meant to fight terrorism and serious offences should not be used for trivial crime, such as “dog fouling or bin crime,” home office minister Vernon Coaker told peers yesterday.

Mr Coaker acknowledged the abuse of these powers has seriously reduced public support for anti-terror measures at the House of Lords constitution committee.

He promised action against such abuses “in the near future”.

“This must be corrected now, not in the near future,” Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said.

“For too long councils have been allowed to use power designed for terrorism and organised crime to spy on people’s kids, pets and bins. It is about time someone in the government admitted that the surveillance society has gone too far,” he added.

Using anti-terrorism laws and surveillance powers for less serious matters is “inappropriate,” said the Local Government Authority’s (LGA) safer communities board chair Hazel Harding.

She warned these powers should never be used lightly, though it was “a matter for each council to determine for its area”.

Still, Ms Harding promised the LGA will work to ensure councils use these powers properly.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve called local council abuses of power “typical of Labour’s approach,” claiming it “erodes fundamental freedoms” without improving public security.

“It is outrageous that while on the one hand a police officer has to fill in a seven page form to use a pair of binoculars, on the other a lower ranking council official can use intrusive surveillance powers on suspicion of dog fouling,” Mr Grieve added.

Despite the widespread criticism of the overuse of surveillance capabilities, Mr Coaker went on to express support for the DNA database, maintaining it would help the government’s effort to crackdown on crime.