'Big Brother' councils in Gloucestershire use spy laws to track cheats
COUNCILS have used controversial spy laws 89 times to track benefit cheats, dodgy traders and people breaking planning laws.
New figures obtained by The Citizen show Gloucester City Council has used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on 17 occasions, Forest of Dean District Council 15 times and Stroud District Council six times in the past five years.
Gloucestershire County Council secretly filmed 21 people for trading standards investigations and authorised obtaining private telecommunications data on 19 occasions in the past three years.
The powers were described by civil liberties groups as a "snooper's charter".
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Seven uses of RIPA by the city council related to benefit fraud investigations, three were to enforce planning rules, six occasions related to enforcement of environmental legislation, and one was for an internal staff matter.
Stroud District Council used the powers four times for benefit fraud, once in a noise nuisance case and once for a waste disposal case.
All 15 uses of RIPA by Forest of Dean District Council have been for benefit fraud investigations.
Marie Rosenthal, group manager for legal and democratic services at Forest of Dean District Council said: "Whilst the powers available cover a number of potential offences, historically the council has only used it in cases of suspected benefit fraud, where the only way the council can establish whether an offence has been committed is by carrying out surveillance."
A Gloucester City Council spokesman said: "These are powers that are used very sparingly and only if they are required to help resolve potential or alleged illegal activity."
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said: "Whether covert surveillance techniques can be justified has to be measured by the seriousness of the problem that they seek to address and the degree of intrusion of individuals' privacy that they represent."