Three operations a day: Full scale of council spying revealed

The full scope of local councils' surveillance operations was revealed today, with figures showing they launched three new actions every day for three straight years.

Big Brother Watch's research for the years between 2008 and 2011, when the coalition imposed a requirement for magistrates' approval, showed local authorities used the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) powers more than 9,600 times.

"The current law is broken and before further surveillance powers are considered we need to fix the situation," said director Nick Pickles.

"Fiddling around the edges by making small changes in new laws risks making the law even more complicated and puts at risk everyone’s privacy and civil liberties."

The group sounded the alarm after seven public bodies, including the BBC, Ofsted and the Royal Mail refused to confirm if they had used the Ripa powers.

Public authorities are not under the same obligation to seek a magistrate's approval before launching a surveillance operation but campaigners are calling for them to have to publish their use of the Ripa powers and for a judicial sign-off on each request.

Those demands appear to have earned the attention of ministers, with local government secretary Eric Pickles endorsing the demands this morning.

"We need robust accountability of all state bodies, not just local authorities, to ensure these state powers are not used without proper justification," he wrote in the report's foreword.

Big Brother Watch found Kent is the worst local authority in the country for Ripa investigations, having spied on their residents 315 times in three years.

Twenty-six local authorities used the law to spy on dog owners to see if they were responsible for dog fouling, while seven used it to investigate suspected breaches of the smoking ban.