Dec 282011

This article in the Lancaster Telegraph suggests the practice may have ended in 2007, but between 2000 and then the Burnley Council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000 to spy on its own staff.

The regulation was brought in in 2000 and allowed council bosses to carry out surveillance on residents they suspected of committing crimes.

The vast majority of uses of the act relate to offences such as benefit fraud, fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.

A Burnley Council spokesman said: “The vast majority of cases where we have used RIPA authorisations were to tackle noise nuisance, anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping and benefit fraud – all things we know our residents want us to sort out.

According to the article, local town councils used the law hundreds of times during this period to spy on residents. Ribbley Valley Borough Council, for instance, used it for dog fouling prosecutions. But Burnley also used it to spy on staff.

In 2001 they used covert surveillance cameras to monitor instances of thefts within council buildings, and in the same year directly observed movements on and off the town hall car park to see whether the council’s flexi-time system was being abused.

In 2005 it was used three times to see if a council employee was using council facilities in work time, such as making personal phone calls to avoid payment.

On two occasions they have snooped on staff near to their home to check if they were genuinely off sick or were working for a third party.

And in 2006 they set up an observation to see if a council employee was using the gym and showers whilst clocked in.

The practice was halted in 2007 following a “clarification of the law by the courts elsewhere in the country,” said a Burnley Council rep.

“Next year, the law changes and councils will need to get the approval of a magistrate before carrying out surveillance. We are looking at our procedures to make sure we can respond to the new system effectively.”

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