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Pickles unveils snooping safeguards

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Councils would require judicial approval to use surveillance to catch criminals under plans unveiled by the Conservatives.

Shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles launched a three-point plan to prevent abuses of the powers granted to councils under anti-terrorism legislation.

Under the Tories’ proposals, councils would be required to obtain a warrant from a local magistrate before using Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) powers to conduct an investigation with surveillance.

Authorities would also be banned from using surveillance for all but serious criminal offences - those subject to a custodial sentence.

And any council officer’s request to undertake surveillance will need to be signed off by the council leader in an attempt to make the system more accountable.

Mr Pickles said: “Taxpayers’ money is being wasted on bankrolling an army of town hall spies acting out their James Bond fantasies.

“Conservatives will protect the rights of law-abiding citizens from Labour’s growing snooper state, and change the law to end this abuse of these state powers which should only be used to tackle terror and serious crimes.”

Among the council abuses of the powers cited by the Tories are Guildford BC using RIPA to see if a garden centre was selling pot plants without planning permission and Hambleton DC using video cameras to view dog walkers’ activities.

The Conservatives claim Labour plans to extend town hall snooping with the government’s Interception of Communications Commissioner calling on councils to make more use of their powers to spy on phone calls and call records.

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