One person a month put under surveillance by Havering Council
Havering residents have had covert inspections carried out on them by the council 121 times in the last decade.
Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, local authorities can authorise themselves to investigate private individuals.
Since 2002, Havering Council has used the powers 121 times – just over once a month – the Recorder can reveal.
Local authorities can use the act to order phone, mail and internet companies to hand over private communications, or carry out covert surveillance of people in public – and there is no right for individuals to know they’ve ever been monitored.
The council says it has used the act to investigate benefit fraud, fly-tipping, graffiti, misrepresentation and the sale of age-restricted products.
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The Act was brought in by the previous government who said that the powers would help fight terrorism, organised crime and drug smuggling.
It is under review by the current government as part of its Protection of Freedoms Bill.
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Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “I’m sure Havering residents will be surprised to hear how often their council has been using undercover surveillance and snooping powers in recent years.
“If a crime is being committed why are the police not investigating? We have no indication if any prosecutions resulted from these investigations, and based on Big Brother Watch’s own research it is likely the overwhelming majority of cases do not.
“The Protection of Freedoms Bill will set in law a proper process for the use of these powers and as councils continue to relish the opportunity to play James Bond it cannot come soon enough.”
But Cllr Geoff Starns, cabinet member for community safety, said: “We use the act sparingly in cases of serious matters for the protection of residents and consumers in Havering, such as underage sales of knives and alcohol to children and benefit fraud.
“We are regularly inspected by the surveillance commissioner who has always commended our high standards in the appropriate use of the act.”