Camden Council forced to rein in surveillance of residents

Camden Council's use of the 'Grim RIPA' powers have been curbed

Camden Council's use of the 'Grim RIPA' powers have been curbed - Credit: Archant

Camden Council is watching you...a little less and less these days, it would seem.

While the Ham&High was snooping through council documents this week, a batch of figures popped out showing its use of controversial surveillance laws on residents had dropped rather dramatically in recent years.

Since the arrival of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), or RIPA, local authorities had been jumping at the chance to keep an eye on their citizens, “for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder”.

Whether they’re suspected of parking misdemeanors, benefit fraud, antisocial behaviour, or a “misuse of resources”, surveillance had started to become a go-to policy for Camden Council.

Figures show that between 2002 and 2005, its applications to spy on residents rose from 13 to 36.

The next four years saw a dramatic jump, reaching a height of 83 in 2007. Most were for what it deemed “antisocial behaviour”.

Practices typically include covert tailing, secret photography and using hidden cameras.

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But while they defended its use, there was a feeling local authorities like Camden Council were getting too much of a feel for hiding in the bushes.

The “Grim Ripa”, as it was branded by privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, risked being abused and powers were curbed.

After the government brought in the Protection of Freedoms Act (2012), councils were required to gain judicial approval prior to using the covert techniques, and it limited the investigation of crimes to those which attract a minimum six-month sentence.

And the changes suggest the council may have previously been using the law in the ways privacy campaigners had feared.

With the changes mooted in 2010, the number of requests by the council dropped to just nine in 2011.

Last year, it was able to make just one request and to date, no requests have been made in 2014.

A council spokesman confirmed: “New legislative restrictions have meant Camden no longer has the powers to carry out the types of surveillance it previously undertook.”