Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Council RIPA misuse to cost millions

Somewhere in the country a paranoid council has been using directed surveillance to spy on councillors and senior officers who were believed to be planning an internal coup. Their private home email, computer and phone records have been obtained, they have been followed and covertly filmed, their bank and credit card records examined. All this has been allowed to happen because in the glory days of Labour, spying, informants and Stasi-like surveillance were good things and councils were encouraged by the government to embrace the freedoms that RIPA gave them to spy and prod at private lives - and yes, RIPA did in a wholly perverse way make this easier than it was before. 

That's at an end. The Law Society Gazette reported last month on the IP Tribunal's findings against the horrific misuse of powers by Poole Council. This opens the door to expensive legal action by victims against the illegal and intrusive use of powers by councils that will cost them millions in damages. The Coalition pledged on coming to office that ‘We will ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime.’ and appointed Lord MacDonald, Ken MacDonald the old DPP as was, to conduct a review due to report about now. In fact, the DCLG's new business plan published yesterday claims that it's complete - but nothing on the Home Office website yet, so we suspect that the Home Secretary is sitting on it for some reason. 

One thing is certain. More cases of horrific abuse of power by councils will be uncovered as cases crawl into the legal system and disclosure orders are made by the higher courts. Labour's brutish, evil and repressive disregard of the rights and freedoms of the peoples of these islands will come increasingly to light, and our disgust at their illiberality will grow. 


JohnofEnfield said...

A distinctly old fashioned view of life if I may say so.

I must admit though that the silence of the autocrats since May has been glorious.

Edward Spalton said...

Having been the recipient of a council campaign some twenty five years ago to drive my business off its site, I can appreciate the utter evil of this situation. (It all stemmed from a councillor who worked for a property company which owned much of the surrounding land and a new development plan).

We were taken under environmental legislation - charges eventually being dropped after two years of harassment and over two hundred site visits.

If these RIPA powers had then been available to the Council (and we had been on the internet) they would have found out which potential expert witnesses we were contacting and so on.

The law in this matter was such that we were guilty as soon as a council officer said he was "satisfied" that an offence was being committed and we were issued with notices to desist.(which would have rendered our site useless). We could not contest the notices. We had to wait until they took us to court for failing to comply with them. In the event, they dropped the charges and paid our lawyer's bill at the last minute before it was due in court.

The litany of thuggery and dirty tricks was a long one - the worst two years of my life. Where politics, the law and commercial interests converge, a small firm with no political pull is usually bound to lose. We were able to afford good lawyers and advice and so survived by the skin of our teeth.

Anonymous said...

Don't hold your breath!Despite FOI requests revealing the extent of surveillance operations conducted by council officers (around 70,000+ cases)I'm not sure how many will make it to the IPT. There is no right to know that you have been the subject of surveillance - my case (Paton vs Poole council) was in part only successful because we were given the surveillance log in a bid to intimidate us. Yes, people can make a complaint but the irony is that you do need to know that you have been the subject of surveillance before you can make a complaint!
Even if you do suspect that you have been the target of Local authority surveillance the only place to take your complaint is to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal - and their investigations into your complaint are secret. Our case was the first to be held at a public Hearing thanks to the legal efforts of Liberty - but this is not the norm. The chances therefore of ever seeking justice are miniscule. Don't expect the Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) to help bring these cases to light - their scrutiny role is to review 'procedures' not the test of proportionality and necessity. In fact Poole councils procedures were judged by the OSC to be 'exemplary'!
From my own experience,there are no penalties for council staff breaching RIPA. Despite winning the case and proving that the surveillance carried out over 22 days on 5 of us was unlawful - the staff in question remain snugly in their posts.....
Jenny Paton

Anonymous said...

@ Edward Spalton. Good for you. The story of David and Goliath lives on in people with the strength of spirit that you clearly have.

As to abuse of RIPA - I think that all the councils and councellors that abused these powers should have all their pension pots removed to pay the incoming fines. Then their homes should be seized if there is still any shortfall. You could be sure - absolutely sure - that these abuses would never happen again.

Coney Island

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Perhaps we should not crow too soon.

It's possible that the Home Secretary is sitting on this because she has already given way to her officials in the matters of state snooping on everyone's internet habits and control orders on legally-innocent suspected "terrorists", and perhaps she is vacillating on this one too.

I can just hear Sir Humphrey saying "let us not rush into this, madam minister", or something like that.

Cameron is quite capable of backtracking and breaking yet another election pledge - practice makes perfect, and Heaven knows he's had plenty of practice already.

Guthrum said...

I am afraid that all the evidence appears to show Teresa May has 'gone native'

Budgie said...

Guthrum said: "I am afraid that all the evidence appears to show Teresa May has 'gone native'".

The attitude to politicians by civil servants is condescension bordering on contempt, not for the politicians' morals, but their intellect. Yet the civil servants' views are themselves self-reinforcing rather than intellectually rigorous. It would take an astute and cunning politician to prevail against this combination.