Campaigners concern over ‘spy’ figures

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DONCASTER Council has authorised spying on residents across the borough 92 times since laws came in controlling secret surveillance by local authorities.

Civil liberties campaigners say the figure is lower than many other authorities but are still concerned about the number of cases.

The figure, revealed in documents which went before Doncaster Council’s audit committee, goes back to 2004.

It shows last year alone, the council gave staff the green light under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to go snooping 13 times, a slight fall from the total from 2009, which was 15.

The report reveals on six of the occasions this year no useful evidence was produced as a result of using the laws to spy.

Among the reasons for spying this year were child protection reasons, fly tipping, a theft from a school and anti-social behaviour.

Daniel Hamilton, director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said he was concerned over the number of times surveillance was being authorised in the borough. His organisation has campaigned on the issue across the UK.

He said: “Councils are currently using the legislation more than 4,000 times a year, with separate operations authorised, on average, over 11 times a day.

“Across the UK, local authorities are abusing their surveillance powers in outrageous ways such as rifling through your bins, going through your mobile phone records or spying on you taking the kids to school.

“It’s time the Government reigned in these Town Hall James Bonds and stripped councils of these powers. Doncaster Council must back down.”

Roger Harvey, Doncaster Council’s assistant director of legal and democratic services, defended the council’s record of using the powers.

He said: “We use covert surveillance in a small number of cases in line with the law and guidelines set by the government regulatory body the Office of Surveillance Commissioners.

“We aim to use these powers as a last resort where it is the only method of obtaining particular intelligence or evidence.”