Shire Hall bosses defend use of 'snooper' legislation
CIVIL liberties campaigners have questioned the way Shire Hall bosses have used controversial surveillance powers.
A total of 21 people have been secretly filmed in the last three years after Gloucestershire County Council's trading standards authorised covert "directed surveillance".
Meanwhile, the authority has also authorised bids to obtain private telecommunications data, which can include private billing information and a list of telephone numbers called, on 19 occasions.
However, the use of the powers, outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), labelled by critics as a "snooper's charter", has resulted in just five prosecutions.
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Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "With so many requests for personal information by Gloucestershire County Council, and so few prosecutions or convictions, there is a clear risk that these powers are not only being used in cases where it is absolutely necessary."
The so-called RIPA powers, which are supposed to be used to combat the most serious of offences, have been used by the council to combat alleged Trade Mark Act crimes like the sale of counterfeit goods, acts of fraud and animal health and welfare offences.
The use of RIPA legislation has made the headlines ever since it was brought in at the turn of the century. The Coalition Government made changes to the law earlier this year so that use of the powers now has to be agreed by a magistrate instead of 'in-house'. Eddie Coventry, head of trading standards at Gloucestershire County Council, said the powers were only used to fight "serious criminal activity".
He said: "Gloucestershire trading standards uses RIPA powers only to tackle serious criminal activity and to prevent disorder. It is only used as a very last resort and has been vital in helping us gather evidence, and protect consumers and businesses, leading to a number of successful convictions.
"We already follow strict rules in deciding whether to use these powers, taking into account whether it is legal, proportionate and necessary in each case. This will not change."