Councils explain their use of ‘spying’ laws in Essex
By Matthew Stanton
COUNCIL bosses have defended the use of special laws to spy on residents – claiming they wanted to catch nuisance neighbours.
Castle Point Council has used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to monitor residents 40 times in two years – 22 in 2008/09 and 18 in 2009/10.
The council stated most of the instances involved monitoring noise across the borough.
A Castle Point Council spokesman denied officers were checking innocent people.
Chief executive David Marchant said: “In Castle Point, most of these instances relate to noise surveillance equipment used by our Environmental Health team to determine noise nuisances in residential areas.
“No charges were brought as the issues were resolved through other means.
“All councils are strictly regulated in the use of surveillance and at its last inspection by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, Castle Point was given a clean bill of health.
“Surveillance powers are used largely as a last resort in cases of anti-social behaviour and community safety.”
Councils use the Act to detect crimes such as fraud.
However, some authorities also use the powers to probe problems such as dog fouling, fly tipping and graffiti.
Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2010, Essex County Council used the powers 68 times – 50 times in 2008/09 and 18 times in 2009/10.
An Essex County Council spokesman: “The service is required to comply with this legislation, and on occasion uses covert surveillance as a means of gaining information about people acting in the course of a trade or business.
“This means that we will observe traders, without letting them know that we are doing so.
“We also use this legislation in order to obtain communications data regarding potential defendants. Specifically the names and addresses associated with telephone numbers or e-mail addresses.
“Under no circumstances do we use intrusive surveillance and in fact we are prohibited from doing so by the legislation.”
Meanwhile, Rochford District Council has used the Act twice to investigate a suspected breach of planning control and a fraudulent benefit claim. Basildon used it three times and Southend just once.