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'Absurd' surveillance ops slammed

Powers designed to combat terrorism and serious crime have been used to catch dog owners whose pets fouled the streets and to investigate breaches of the smoking ban, a report has said.

Local councils have carried out more than 9,000 surveillance operations over a three-year period, said campaign group Big Brother Watch.

It said details obtained from 345 local authorities across the UK under the Freedom of Information Act showed they conducted operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) on 9,607 occasions between 2008 and 2011 - more than eight a day.

Among the cases highlighted in the report was Suffolk County Council, which was said to have used Ripa to make test purchases of a puppy, dating agency services and at a house of horrors.

Stockton Borough Council was said to have used Ripa powers for investigations into a fraudulent escort agency and the movement of pigs while councils used Ripa on 550 occasions to try to catch fly-tippers.

The report said that such cases showed the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the legislation.

"The legislative framework of surveillance does not offer proper safeguards against abuse or transparency," it said.

"It is absurd that the regulation of the test purchase of a puppy falls under the same legislation that governs when security services can intercept communications."

The Local Government Association (LGA) said that councils used Ripa "sparingly and responsibly" to combat crimes of public concern.

Mehboob Khan, chairman of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said that on average a local authority only used Ripa powers less than 10 times a year while council requests for communications data under the act made up only 0.3% of all requests received.

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