The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has been mentioned a few times on this blog – normally in relation to Freedom of Information requests from newspaper journalists seeking to find out how it had been used by councils.
RIPA allows councils to turn private eyes and snoop on people, and has been used to gather evidence on things like benefit fraud, fly-tipping, noise nuisance and dog fouling. Perhaps the most famous case was in 2008 when Poole Borough Council admitted using the powers to find out if a local couple had been trying to cheat the school catchment place system.
But RIPA being used to snoop on journalists at the local paper? You couldn’t make it up, could you? Clearly they didn’t in Derby, where the Derby Telegraph reports on how the local council dispatched two officers to a local Starbucks after a Telegraph reporter was seen talking to former and current council employees.
As the story in today’s Telegraph explains, the reporter and the council staff got wind of the spying because the people who the council sent to spy on them were known to all concerned. Spooks, this is not, clearly. The council initially said the fact these officers turned up was ‘incidental.’ A Freedom of Information request by the Derby Telegraph exposed that lie this week.
In its latest response, the Council doesn’t seem to acknowledge that its farcical behaviour was a waste of taxpayers money, instead saying it now understand it does not need to use RIPA if it is investigating a matter of ‘internal function.’ Presumably that means it only needs RIPA to spy on the public, not its own staff.
As FOI requests up and down the country proves, councils like to use RIPA. The big question is whether they can be trusted to use it properly. This case proves that, in some cases at least, they can’t
This case does little to reassure us that they are being used correctly.