By Chris Hastings, Public Affairs Editor
An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph found that three quarters of local authorities have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 over the past year.
The Act gives councils the right to place residents and businesses under surveillance, trace telephone and email accounts and even send staff on undercover missions.
The findings alarmed civil liberties campaigners. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "Councils do a grave disservice to professional policing by using serious surveillance against litterbugs instead of terrorists."
The RIPA was introduced to help fight terrorism and crime. But a series of extensions, first authorised by David Blunkett in 2003, mean that Britain's 474 councils can use the law to tackle minor misdemeanours.
Councils are using the Act to tackle dog fouling, the unauthorised sale of pizzas and the abuse of the blue badge scheme for disabled drivers.
Among 115 councils that responded to a Freedom of Information request, 89 admitted that they had instigated investigations under the Act. The 82 councils that provided figures said that they authorised or carried out a total of 867 RIPA investigations during the year to August
Durham county council emerged as the biggest user, with just over 100 surveillance operations launched during the period. Newcastle city council used the powers 82 times, and Middlesbrough council 70 times.
Derby council made sound recordings of a property after a complaint about noisy children.
Surveillance operations aimed at individual homes and businesses can last for months. Calderdale council in West Yorkshire began "direct covert surveillance" targeting one business in May that is still going on.
It seems as if a complete disregard for basic privacy rights are simply epidemic in the world lately. The US's NSA has been monitoring every single phone-call and internet transmission made, the British are misusing terrorist legislation for law-enforcement and domestic-surveillance, and there are probably so many other cases in other nations around the world.
What do you all think
BTW: I want to make it clear that I'm not opposed to all surveillance. What I'm opposed to is excessive surveillance, and surveillance abuse.
[Edited 2009-01-25 11:46:10]