Council defends surveillance use

ROTHERHAM Council is in the top 10 of authorities to use surveillance powers to crackdown on yobs, fraudsters and benefit cheats.

A new report has revealed the local authority used anti-terror surveillance powers, such as using hidden cameras, 160 times in the last the past three years.

Council workers are allowed to use the surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The council has used the powers in suspected cases of anti-social behaviour, benefit fraud and trading standards.

A spokesman for Rotherham Council defended its use of surveillance operations saying it only resorted to such methods as a last resort.

He added: “Surveillance is used ultimately to either protect the vulnerable or to cut down on fraud but it is not used lightly.”

“The RIPA is in place to protect the public’s human rights and to restrict local authorities from carrying out surveillance on a whim. Rotherham uses it when there is information to suggest illegal activity is taking place requiring further evidence that can only be obtained by surveillance.”

The spokesman said that surveillance requests have to be authorised by a senior manager before it goes ahead.

He added: “There is no separate budget allocated for this and no private contractors are used. Instead council staff from the relevant departments carry out this work as part of their normal duties.”

“For example, Trading Standards Officers might request authorisation of surveillance after receiving information about the illegal sale of alcohol or tobacco to children. Surveillance is needed because a suspect is not likely to admit the offence if simply asked about it.”

“Cameras are used in cases of anti-social behaviour where we have victims of persistent crime and surveillance is also used to investigate false claims for council tax and housing benefits.”

“We will continue to use surveillance on a case-by-case basis when we believe it is necessary and proportionate to the alleged crime, whilst abiding by the RIPA Code of Conduct.”

Campaign group Big Brother Watch, which published the report called for an overhaul of the laws.

“It is dangerous that organisations do not even have to confirm if, how or why they have used these powers when they potentially involve very intrusive surveillance,” the report added.