Smith: No more council snooping

There will be a clampdown on local authorities using surveillance techniques for trivial offences, the home secretary has announced today.

Jacqui Smith is overhauling the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to ensure the powers are no longer used for trivial misdemeanours by local authorities.

Ms Smith said: “I don’t want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day, for dog fouling offences, or to check whether paper boys are carrying sacks that are too heavy.”

Ripa governs the use of surveillance and intercept evidence used by a range of bodies like the security services, police and local authorities.

Various councils have come under fire for abusing these powers to prosecute minor infringements such as dropping litter.

Some council’s have mounted cameras in bins to spy on people suspected of putting out their rubbish on the wrong day, or obtained telephone records of people suspected of dropping litter.

Ms Smith said that early next year a consultation will take place to look at proposed changes to Ripa.

The changes to be made will be a revision of the code of practice, revising which public bodies can use Ripa and making sure that authorisation comes from the most upper echelons of government.

Changes regarding DNA were also mentioned in the speech.

Ms Smith said she wants all people who have been convicted of serious crime in the system, saying: “No matter when they were convicted, I want to see the most serious offenders on the database.”

She also wants to increase the police powers to be able to take DNA samples for a longer period after conviction and all those convicted of crimes overseas who come into the UK.

Children under 10 will immediately have their DNA removed from the database and a White Paper on Forensics will be published next year to set out guidelines for children under 18.

Ms Smith has come under criticism for trying to pass highly controversial legislation such as the 42-detention plans or the Data Communication Bill.