Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spies Like Us : Scottish Govt say ‘No plans to review Council snooping powers in Scotland’ as Home Secretary announces UK anti-terror review

Home Office logoUK Home office announces plans to review spying laws. SCOTS once again may miss out on reforms to justice & civil liberties announced yesterday by the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May, to scale back local council spying powers, as the Scottish Government revealed today it has no plans to review the use of the much hated snooping laws granted to local authorities in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, which have been used by Councils up and down Scotland to spy on everything from fly tipping offenders, late payers of Council Tax, parents of schoolchildren, critics of local public services, and even journalists who have reported on local authority scandals.

Theresa MayTheresa May, UK Home Secretary announces independent review of anti terror laws, stop & search powers & RIPA spying powers. Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary said : “National security is the first duty of government but we are also committed to reversing the substantial erosion of civil liberties. I want a counter-terrorism regime that is proportionate, focused and transparent. We must ensure that in protecting public safety, the powers which we need to deal with terrorism are in keeping with Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness.”

The Home Secretary continued : “I am delighted that Lord Ken Macdonald QC will provide expert independent oversight of the review. This role is distinct from the excellent work that is already being undertaken by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC in his statutory role as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. We will look at the evidence presented to us and where it is clear that legislation needs to be amended or powers need to be rolled back, we will do so.”

The review, which was a commitment in the coalition agreement, published on 20 May 2010 will be carried out by the Home Office, with oversight from Lord Ken Macdonald QC, former Director of Public, the findings reported in the Autumn. Issues to be looked at in the review will include :

* the use of control orders
* stop and search powers in section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography
* the detention of terrorist suspects before charge
*extending the use of deportations with assurances to remove foreign nationals from the UK who pose a threat to national security
*measures to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence
*the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) by local authorities, and access to communications data more generally.

While many of the issues which are to be subject of the much hailed review were originally intended to protect the UK against terrorism, the inevitable ‘mission creep’ of anti terror powers, and who could use them saw local councils widely abusing snooping powers granted to them under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (applicable to England & Wales) and its Scottish Equivalent : Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000.

The RIPSA legislation was introduced to regulate the surveillance of a person or persons and to regulate information obtained from third parties when the subject of the activity is not aware of either the surveillance or information gathering.

Scottish Councils are involved in such information gathering, amongst others, for the detection of a crime, a possible breach of legislation or a potential breach of tenancy agreements, although in some cases, journalists & campaigners who have reported on or campaigned against scandals in local authorities, some involving greenbelt land grabs by developers who have donated to political parties, have curiously & coincidentally found themselves being subject to Council surveillance powers, leading to allegations local authorities have used RIP(S)A to spy on critics and threats to policy, be it official or less than honest …

Many campaigners have welcomed the UK Government’s commitment to review and potentially scale back the spying powers which have led to such incidents as local councils snooping in refuse bins local councils snooping in refuse bins and parents being spied on over placements of their children in local schools parents of schoolchildren being spied on over placements and in Scotland, on, among others, rogue traders, antisocial neighbours and bill posters.

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government say no plans to review spying powers over Scots. Asked if the Scottish Government would follow a review of the spying powers in England & Wales, a Scottish Government spokesperson said :“We have no plans to review the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. The use of the Act is subject to independent oversight from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, who carry out regular inspections of all relevant Scottish public bodies, including local authorities.”

The spokesman went onto say : “The use of communications data by public authorities is reserved and is therefore a matter for the UK Government.”

A senior solicitor confirmed this morning the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament would have to be involved if there were to be any changes or reforms to snooping powers contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000

A spokesman for an openness campaign group said the Scottish Government’s stance was ‘not viable’ in the face of the coalition government’s plans to scale back spying powers in England & Wales.

He said : “The same issues & questions regarding the overuse of CCTV & snooping powers in England & Wales exist in Scotland. It is a pity the Scottish Government have missed this opportunity to engage in much needed civil liberties reforms which appear to be taking place south of the border, leaving many to question why the Scottish Government and Scottish public bodies feel they need to retain such overwhelmingly invasive spying powers north of the border.”

A parent whose family was subject to RIPSA surveillance powers over a long running battle concerning the placement of his child at a school in a major Scottish city, who was cleared after nearly two years of investigation & harassment by his local authority also criticised the Scottish Government for its lack of will to review the snooping powers in Scotland.

He said : “It seems we now have to wait on the UK Government to take the lead on justice issues because the Scottish Government are just not interested in providing justice or civil freedoms for Scots.”

He went onto comment that even after winning his long, bitter battle against his local council, after his family had been followed, photographed, had their waste-bins emptied & searched, he placed little trust in any independent oversight of Scottish public bodies who are allowed to use RIPSA to spy on the public, describing ‘independent’ regulation of Council spying powers as “a joke”.


Anonymous said...

Hmm Scotland the land of spies.Who would have thought!

Is that how they keep the natives down up there?

Anonymous said...

I hope you name & shame the scumbag council who wasted 2 years to find out if the schoolchild's home address is genuine.No wonder Council Tax is so high with ridiculous behaviour like this going on.

Anonymous said...

Local authorities in England & Wales will put up stiff resistance to plans to curb their "snooping powers" and I assume the Scots are so bloody minded they want much the same hence your Scottish Govt's policy of blaming Westminster so they can keep their little surveillance empire intact.

Anonymous said...

No surprise here Mr Salmond likes to allow his councils to go through our rubbish bins !

Anonymous said...

Fair point - if its going to be scaled back or repealed in England & Wales why not in Scotland ? said...


Controversy over councils’ secret spying

Jasper Hamill

24 May 2010

Scottish councils have used controversial surveillance powers to secretly spy on hundreds of people but only managed to gather enough evidence for one arrest a year.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation revealed that local authorities were using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPSA) to carry out clandestine surveillance of people accused of minor crimes.

The law was designed to help fight serious crime or terrorism but figures show that over the past two years, councils have carried out surveillance operations to tackle dog-fouling, racism, smoking in the workplace, misuse of council property and the illegal sale of fireworks.

Using RIPSA powers, councils can film people with hidden cameras, intercept their emails and secretly follow them. They are allowed to use undercover agents, for instance to find out if a shop is selling alcohol to children.

In 2008, councils used RIPSA powers 296 times, resulting in one arrest, while in 2009 they used the powers 248 times, which also resulted in one arrest. The figures could be larger as some councils, including Edinburgh, did not respond to the FOI request.

Dylan Sharpe, campaign director with Big Brother Watch, carried out the investigation. He said: “The issue we have is that people never have to be told. They can be found innocent but never find out they were followed down the street, photographed and possibly had their emails or mobile phone calls intercepted. There is no reason why these powers should be used.”

Falkirk Council used its surveillance powers more times than any other council in Scotland last year. They carried out 45 surveillance operations to tackle dog-fouling, smoking inside premises, misuse of council equipment and supply of counterfeit goods. No arrests were made.

The council claimed that the fact there were no arrests was testament to their success in deterring offenders. In cases of noise pollution, which made up the bulk of their RIPSA operations, they record people, then warn them if they do not cut the noise, it will mean a court appearance.

Councillor Charles MacDonald, convener of Falkirk Council’s environment and community safety committee said: “Dog-fouling, fly-tipping and noise are all issues which residents, in consultation and at every members’ surgery, have put high on the list of anti-social behaviour offences they find un-acceptable. Falkirk has, through our Community Concerns Us campaign, taken a number of steps including the use of covert cameras, noise monitoring equipment and publicity campaigns to tackle these issues.”

The coalition Government has pledged to cut back council’s use of RIPSA, or RIPA in England. They recently announced that anyone seeking to carry out surveillance would need a warrant signed by a magistrate.

The SNP Government favour putting more policemen on the street over surveillance. An SNP spokeswoman said: “Rather than such powers, the SNP has always believed that the most effective way to make Scotland safer is to invest in more police on the beat – that’s why we’ve put more than 1000 extra officers on Scotland’s streets since 2007.”

Alex Deane, drector of Big Brother Watch, added: “Now that the absurd and excessive use of RIPA surveillance has been revealed, these powers have to be taken away from councils. If the offence is serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it should be in the hands of the police.”

In England, councils used RIPA to spy on employees suspected of lying about their health to take time off or duplicating car-park passes.

Bromley Council spied on a charity shop to watch people fly-tip donations at the door.

Newcastle upon Tyne made the most RIPA requests in the UK, with 183 in the past two years.

Anonymous said...

Devolution has been a disaster full stop.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 13:22

Could be ...

# Anonymous @ 13:44

The family are talking to a newspaper so it will all come out soon enough ...

# Anonymous @ 14:01

If scaling back RIPA is good enough for the rest of the UK, scaling back RIPSA is good for Scotland ...

# Anonymous @ 14:25

Thanks for the link to that Herald article ...

# Anonymous @ 14:39

Yes ...

Anonymous said...

Stasi-Scotland ?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting
How can I find out if I have been affected by Council spies ?

Anonymous said...

There is no justification for retaining council spying powers in Scotland if what is implied in the review will take place.

I wish the family who were harassed over their child's school place best wishes and hope they get more than just an apology from their council.

Anonymous said...

I dont agree Councils should be allowed to spy on anyone because as you already write they have probably abused it against anyone who complaints about their services or criticises them.Its just like these Community Wardens (pretend Police) walking around who are not well regulated and just a substitute for proper policing.
Take all these snooping powers away from all Councils English and Scottish and let them get on with providing us with local services instead of us paying them to spy on us!

Anonymous said...

another foot in mouth for the SNP
get real Mr Salmond - everyone wants rid of RIPSA except YOURSELF and the COUNCIL SPIES and those who bend it for their own ends!

Anonymous said...

Good work.If you highlight/Block capitals the words "no plans" in your opening it will sound better.

The comment in the Herald story posted by someone from an SNP spokesman says “Rather than such powers, the SNP has always believed that the most effective way to make Scotland safer is to invest in more police on the beat – that’s why we’ve put more than 1000 extra officers on Scotland’s streets since 2007.”

What a load of tosh.What has putting more police on the beat got to do with Councils spying on Council Tax payers ?
Very amateurish this SNP lot you'd be better rid of!

Anonymous said...

Councils will argue "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" then try asking them for their councillor's expenses claims and you get to find out zilch!

Personally I think RIPA was put in place to keep us in fear of Councils so they could do as they pleased.Anyone agree with me ?

Anonymous said...

I am intrigued by your references to RIPA being used on journalists as I have heard similar allegations from a colleague.Will have to pay more attention next time to your blog.

Anonymous said...

Reading that story in the Herald linked earlier there doesn't seem to be much doubt Councils are abusing their surveillance powers.

The Scottish version of this English Act should be scrapped immediately.

Anonymous said...

Now we know what the "S" stands for in SNP


Anonymous said...

"Councils will argue "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" then try asking them for their councillor's expenses claims and you get to find out zilch!"

Edinburgh City Council have plenty to hide - even their use of RIPSA !

Anonymous said...

Peter a good story - it looks like you are the first to get the admission they are doing sod all about snooping laws so a good scoop for you !

Anonymous said...

Hope the family involved in the 2 year spying battle get some justice against those bastards who spied on them and SHAME on the SNP for doing nothing about it

Anonymous said...

I genuinely admire your writing Mr Cherbi especially on political issues.A man is judged by the quality of his enemies so I think you must rank up there in lights considering who your enemies are !

Keep up the good work !

Anonymous said...

-1 for the Scottish Govt again

Anonymous said...

I dont subscribe to the Scottish Government's line its all reserved to Westminster.After all we've had the First Minister intervening in asylum issues (also a reserved matter for Westminster) so why are his Scottish Government Ministers now playing dumb over surveillance powers ?

Too much pick & choose for the Scottish Government proving easily they are not a real Government at all.

Anonymous said...

"The use of the Act is subject to independent oversight from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, who carry out regular inspections of all relevant Scottish public bodies, including local authorities.”

The spokesman went onto say : “The use of communications data by public authorities is reserved and is therefore a matter for the UK Government.”

So typical of politicians no matter which party they are from and their civil servant minders - blame it on someone else and do nothing as usual.

The entire Scottish political system is just as rotten and corrupt as the legal system - that much is proved by the way they treat the people.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Now we know what the "S" stands for in SNP


14 July 2010 19:49


Anonymous said...

Another failure for the exalted Mike Dailly and his dear Govan Law Centre !

Customers hit by ‘death blow’ in bid to sue banks

David Leask

15 Jul 2010

Banks are said to have delivered a “death blow” to thousands of Scots attempting to sue them over unfair overdraft charges.

In a landmark case, high-street giant Santander yesterday convinced a Glasgow sheriff that such actions were too complex for consumer-friendly small claims courts.

The bank’s victory means any customer who wishes to fight for their money back will face unlimited costs at a sheriff court – rather than the cheap proceedings of small claims.

The ruling affects about 800 people in Scotland whose cases are currently going through the courts, as well as thousands who are considering action.

Santander was being sued for £3000 by NHS worker Allison Walls for what she believes were six years’ worth of unwarranted overdraft charges.

Walls, a married mother-of-two from Glasgow, was one of some 800 Scots waiting to sue their banks through small claims. Yesterday she said she would have to drop her case after it was switched to the ordinary roll of the sheriff court – where she could face costs of £10,000 in her bid to get her £3000 back. “That is not a risk I can afford to take,” she said.

Walls’s lawyer is Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre, one of the solicitors at the forefront of a UK-wide bid to reclaim bank charges.

Dailly said the Walls case would have huge repercussions for the thousands of other customers who were hoping to get their money back.

He said: “I understand that banks across the UK are now trying to get unfair bank charge claims removed from the claims system. I have no doubt this is a premeditated strategy to kill off all such claims before the courts because legal expenses are only capped for small claims.”

The effect of leaving the small claims system in Scotland is that consumers become exposed to potentially unlimited expenses in the event of losing. For those eligible for legal aid there will be a contribution to pay that may exceed the value of the dispute, making it pointless.

Dailly added: “For those ineligible for legal aid it would be crazy to proceed. The strategy is clearly designed to deliver a death blow to consumers’ claims.”

The Scottish Parliament raised the ceiling for small-claims actions from £750 to £3000 just three years ago. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill explicitly said that move would help those fighting banks over charges.

The sheriff who backed Santander – Andrew Cubie of Glasgow – cited MacAskill’s views in his judgment. But he said “there could well be exceptional complexity” in the Walls action, adding: “I consider that there are difficult questions of law to be resolved in this case.”

A spokesman for MacAskill yesterday declined to comment on any individual case, but said: “It was always understood that, if a sheriff deemed the matters under discussion to be complex, such cases could be treated as an ordinary action.”

Santander said its lawyers regarded the case as far too complicated to be heard under small-claims procedures.

Dailly believes that tens of thousands of Scots – and more people elsewhere in the UK – would have used the small-claims system to sue their banks if they could.

Anonymous said...

I dont pretend to understand everything about snooping laws but I do agree councils should not be able to do it.What if they use it for malicious purposes as Peter says ?
Who investigates it ?
Any talk of independent investigation is rubbish as we all know with the lawyers so they will just whitewash again if someone complains they are being spied on by hangers on in the local council.Really terrible stuff we should all be campaigning against this

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Someone else asked earlier on and I would also like to know how do we find out if RIPSA has been used against us and what do we do to get the evidence ?

Anonymous said...

Good reporting Peter.

I think you caught the civil servants before they were able to study the London announcement hence the "We have no plans etc" approach.

Of course if they do change their minds and launch a similar review for Scotland as I'm sure they will be forced to do at some stage then it may all be down to you or at least it will look that way.

Someone extra to stick in the gullet of your critics at Saughton House.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments & contacts on this article.

For the avoidance of doubt anyone who feels they have been subject to surveillance by their local authority or a public body with powers under RIPSA can request through Freedom of Information legislation "information contained in documents, material or discussions relating to ..."

An individual who has been through a long campaign by his local authority apparently to discredit him did just that and sent me a copy of documents showing the kinds of surveillance used by his local authority on him.

The more people who ask, the more people who question the use of such laws .. there will inevitably have to be change.

I certainly agree with all those who expressed the position such powers of surveillance should be stripped from local authorities and most public bodies, for as we have seen over the past year & longer .. it is those very public bodies & public authorities who watch us, deserve a lot more public scrutiny themselves ...

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Anonymous said...

The Santander victory would never have happened if we had Class Actions - something consumer organisations have been campaigning to have introduced for years...and not just limited to banks.