Spies Like Us : Scottish Government say ‘No plans to review Council snooping powers in Scotland’ as UK Home Secretary announces anti-terror law review

14 Jul

Home Office logoUK Home office announces plans to review spying laws. SCOTS once again may miss out on reforms to justice & civil liberties announced yesterday by the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May, to scale back local council spying powers, as the Scottish Government revealed today it has no plans to review the use of the much hated snooping laws granted to local authorities in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, which have been used by Councils up and down Scotland to spy on everything from fly tipping offenders, late payers of Council Tax, parents of schoolchildren, critics of local public services, and even journalists who have reported on local authority scandals.

Theresa MayTheresa May, UK Home Secretary announces independent review of anti terror laws, stop & search powers & RIPA spying powers. Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary said : “National security is the first duty of government but we are also committed to reversing the substantial erosion of civil liberties. I want a counter-terrorism regime that is proportionate, focused and transparent. We must ensure that in protecting public safety, the powers which we need to deal with terrorism are in keeping with Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness.”

The Home Secretary continued : “I am delighted that Lord Ken Macdonald QC will provide expert independent oversight of the review. This role is distinct from the excellent work that is already being undertaken by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC in his statutory role as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. We will look at the evidence presented to us and where it is clear that legislation needs to be amended or powers need to be rolled back, we will do so.”

The review, which was a commitment in the coalition agreement, published on 20 May 2010 will be carried out by the Home Office, with oversight from Lord Ken Macdonald QC, former Director of Public, the findings reported in the Autumn. Issues to be looked at in the review will include :

* the use of control orders
* stop and search powers in section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography
* the detention of terrorist suspects before charge
*extending the use of deportations with assurances to remove foreign nationals from the UK who pose a threat to national security
*measures to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence
*the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) by local authorities, and access to communications data more generally.

While many of the issues which are to be subject of the much hailed review were originally intended to protect the UK against terrorism, the inevitable ‘mission creep’ of anti terror powers, and who could use them saw local councils widely abusing snooping powers granted to them under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (applicable to England & Wales) and its Scottish Equivalent : Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000.

The RIPSA legislation was introduced to regulate the surveillance of a person or persons and to regulate information obtained from third parties when the subject of the activity is not aware of either the surveillance or information gathering.

Scottish Councils are involved in such information gathering, amongst others, for the detection of a crime, a possible breach of legislation or a potential breach of tenancy agreements, although in some cases, journalists & campaigners who have reported on or campaigned against scandals in local authorities, some involving greenbelt land grabs by developers who have donated to political parties, have curiously & coincidentally found themselves being subject to Council surveillance powers, leading to allegations local authorities have used RIP(S)A to spy on critics and threats to policy, be it official or less than honest …

Many campaigners have welcomed the UK Government’s commitment to review and potentially scale back the spying powers which have led to such incidents as local councils snooping in refuse bins local councils snooping in refuse bins and parents being spied on over placements of their children in local schools parents of schoolchildren being spied on over placements and in Scotland, on, among others, rogue traders, antisocial neighbours and bill posters.

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government say no plans to review spying powers over Scots. Asked if the Scottish Government would follow a review of the spying powers in England & Wales, a Scottish Government spokesperson said :“We have no plans to review the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. The use of the Act is subject to independent oversight from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, who carry out regular inspections of all relevant Scottish public bodies, including local authorities.”

The spokesman went onto say : “The use of communications data by public authorities is reserved and is therefore a matter for the UK Government.”

A senior solicitor confirmed this morning the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament would have to be involved if there were to be any changes or reforms to snooping powers contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000

A spokesman for an openness campaign group said the Scottish Government’s stance was ‘not viable’ in the face of the coalition government’s plans to scale back spying powers in England & Wales.

He said : “The same issues & questions regarding the overuse of CCTV & snooping powers in England & Wales exist in Scotland. It is a pity the Scottish Government have missed this opportunity to engage in much needed civil liberties reforms which appear to be taking place south of the border, leaving many to question why the Scottish Government and Scottish public bodies feel they need to retain such overwhelmingly invasive spying powers north of the border.”

A parent whose family was subject to RIPSA surveillance powers over a long running battle concerning the placement of his child at a school in a major Scottish city, who was cleared after nearly two years of investigation & harassment by his local authority also criticised the Scottish Government for its lack of will to review the snooping powers in Scotland.

He said : “It seems we now have to wait on the UK Government to take the lead on justice issues because the Scottish Government are just not interested in providing justice or civil freedoms for Scots.”

He went onto comment that even after winning his long, bitter battle against his local council, after his family had been followed, photographed, had their waste-bins emptied & searched, he placed little trust in any independent oversight of Scottish public bodies who are allowed to use RIPSA to spy on the public, describing ‘independent’ regulation of Council spying powers as “a joke”.


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