Headlines: April 20th, 2009

The Local Government Association says it will work with councils to ensure that surveillance powers are used properly. The LGA said that all public bodies needed to re-build public confidence by showing that the powers were used to help bring serious criminals to justice and not for trivial reasons.

The Association was responding to the announcement of a Government consultation into the use of operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The Government is asking for public views on which public authorities should be able to authorise investigatory techniques, when and why these should be used and whether elected councillors should play a role in approving or overseeing local covert investigations.

For the LGA, Hazel Harding, who chairs its Safer Communities Board, said public bodies that had carried out surveillance operations under RIPA had now to demonstrate that these had been necessary to crack down on serious criminals. “This is an opportunity for councils, the NHS and government departments to show why these powers are needed, that they are being used appropriately, approved at a senior level and with proper regard to privacy and civil liberties,” Councillor Harding said.

The LGA had written to all English councils last year urging them to conduct their own review of their use of the powers and since then authorities had been discussing the issues with local politicians and training staff to make sure the powers were always used appropriately.

“Whilst it is a matter for each council to determine for its area, the LGA’s advice is that, save in the most unusual and extreme circumstances, it is inappropriate to use these powers for less serious matters. The LGA will continue to work with councils to ensure these powers are used properly,” Councillor Harding said.