Poole used surveillance to probe vandalism, drug dealing, extraction of prohibited shellfish and claims of residence in school catchments.
Deputy information commissioner David Smith said the ICO was concerned about Poole’s activities because “in some cases” the surveillance has involved the covert collection of personal information about those under scrutiny.
Tim Martin, the council’s head of legal and democratic service, said it had used surveillance to help prosecute those attempting to break the law, damage communities or threaten the environment.
A House of Lords inquiry is due next week to question the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) about surveillance, while the home affairs committee is expected to urge for tougher safeguards.
A LACORS spokesman said surveillance was essential to reassure and protect people. He added: “There are strict rules to protect people from unnecessary intrusion.”
Surveillance can be authorised by a council’s assistant chief officer, assistant head of service or service manager positions roughly equivalent to a police superintendent.