In the film “The Return of the Pink Panther”, the bungling Inspector Clouseau famously admonishes a blind man and his “meunkey” for begging without a license, while failing to notice the armed robbery in progress at the bank behind him.
Meanwhile in the real world, following up the story of Poole Borough Council using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on a pre-school child and her family, the BBC reported this week on a survey of local council RIPA use by the Press Association news agency. They have found the law being used by some councils to investigate such important priorities as littering, dog fouling and misuse of a disabled parking badge. (Sightings of unlicensed accordion players with primate business partners remain unconfirmed, but I’m confident that should any be spotted, the Clouseau Councils won’t hesitate to RIPA them into submission).
Sir Simon Milton, Local Government Association chairman, told the BBC,
“It’s wrong to suggest that these are specifically anti-terror powers.”
Then why did the Government sell the laws as being specifically required to combat “serious crime, including terrorism” in the media, in Parliament, and even on the Home Office website?
“There are strict rules to protect people from unnecessary intrusion, and whenever a council applies to use these powers they must prove that it is both necessary and proportionate to the crime being investigated.”
The proportionality test barrier can’t be very high if councils are able to satisfy themselves it’s met in cases of littering.
The article mentions that 19 councils asked for the survey questions to be submitted under the Freedom of Information Act, but it doesn’t list which ones. Fortunately, I have already submitted an FoI request to Cardiff council to find out how my local administration has used the laws since they came into force. I was hoping to discover whether Cardiff was a Clouseau Council in time for the local elections this week, but sadly the mandated one-month turn-around time expires a fortnight after the polls close.
How does your local authority shape up in the cracking-walnuts-with-sledgehammers department? Is this an election issue in your area? Hit the comments link and share your thoughts.