The human rights organisation Liberty has welcomed a tribunal ruling against a council which used a law designed to fight terrorism to spy on a local family. Liberty said the case proved that it is untrue to say that the innocent have “nothing to fear” from the growth of surveillance powers.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled that Poole Council acted illegally by subjecting Jenny Paton and her three children to covert surveillance for three weeks in 2008.
The Council say that they were trying to check that the children lived in the catchment area for the school they attended.
But they claimed to be acting under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). When RIPA was introduced, the government said it existed for the purpose of fighting terrorism and organised crime. This is the first time that a local council's use of RIPA has been challenged before the IPT.
The Tribunal declared that Poole Council had used its powers of surveillance for an “improper purpose”.
Corinna Ferguson, Legal Officer for Liberty, said, “Intrusive surveillance is vital to fighting terrorism and serious crime but weak legal protections and petty abuses of power bring it into disrepute”.
She added, “Former ministers claimed that the innocent had nothing to fear, but the sinister treatment of Jenny and her kids proves that these powers need to be far more tightly restricted and supervised”.