Laws introduced to help the fight against terrorism have been used nearly 300 times in four years by council chiefs to snoop on residents.
Wandsworth Council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), dubbed by opponents the “snoopers charter”, to check on parking and benefit fraudsters, fly-tippers, and rogue traders.
The council said “it made no apologies” for using Ripa, but opponents said the legislation was being misused.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by this paper showed council chiefs made use of the powers using “a selection of human and CCTV surveillance” to assist 284 parking
investigations and seven trading standards cases.
It also used Ripa to investigate graffiti, a licensing issue, benefit fraud, flytipping and a housing sub-letting claim.
Councillor Leonie Cooper, deputy leader of the Labour group in the council, said: “I find it both surprising and outrageous that the council has misused a piece of legislation in this fashion.
“They should come clean and tell people what they have been doing and stop it immediately. The Labour group will certainly be raising this with the conservatives in the full council meeting next
Conservative Councillor Elizabeth Forbes said relevant legislation should be sufficient to catch fraudsters. She said: “I’m not in favour of these laws being used in these circumstances . . . the
prevention of terrorism laws are there to prevent terrorism, they are not there to deal with flytipping and graffiti.”
But a Wandsworth Council spokesman said external auditors had confirmed the council was using Ripa proportionately.
He said: “This legislation is what we are required to use if we want to carry out surveillance on suspected fraudsters, con-artists, cowboy builders and flytippers and catch them red-handed. We
make no apology for using all the powers Parliament has given us to try and catch people who rip off consumers and taxpayers.”
He said a direct result of Ripa the council had convicted more than 400 motorists of 1,164 blue badge offences since 2004 - returning more about £300,000 to the public purse.
The Home Office website stated: “RIPA is a pro-human rights law that, rather than 'giving' powers, controls activities that need to be regulated.”
Should Ripa laws be used to catch parking fraudsters? Comment on this story at Wandsworthguardian.co.uk