Clouseau Councils abuse RIPA surveillance powers

Inspector Clouseau - does he work for your council?

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers bill was sold as being a vital tool in the fight against child abuse, serious and organised crime, and yes, even terrorism. Now that it’s an Act of Parliament, we find it’s actually being used to enforce school catchment areas and target nuisance dog poo. Is wanting the best education for your child a criminal offence? I don’t think so. Not even a little one.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said:

“I am astonished that this very serious legislation is being misused in this way in cases which seem to be petty and vindictive. We have just completed an inquiry into the surveillance society and we have noted that there has been a huge growth in the use of these laws. The people responsible have some very serious questions to answer.”

While I agree councils should have been more restrained, the fact that it’s legal for them to behave like this is the fault of the Government. If it was never the intent for RIPA powers to be used in a “petty and vindictive” way, then why does the legislation allow it? I think the people with “very serious questions” to answer are the MPs who keep passing laws you could drive a bus through.

It is poor civic hygiene to install laws that could someday facilitate a police state. RIPA was supposed to combat bogeymen, not help pettifogging bureaucracies snoop on hard-working families. How can we trust the Home Secretary now as she presses for increased powers of detention without charge internment without a shred of evidence to suggest they’re either necessary or proportionate? It’s not very re-assuring to hear that only suspected terrorists will be interred when the risk of being accused as such is increasing all the time.

Legislators must think much harder about how such laws could be abused, and less hard about what great headlines they’ll make, lest public trust and human rights become things of the past.

Post revised 17/04/08

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