Council catches canine terrorists

Allerdale Council has admitted to spying on dog owners to see if their pets foul pavements and are wearing a collar, in some cases using hidden cameras.

The authority was today named and shamed by the organisation Big Brother Watch, which says Allerdale has been misusing surveillance legislation aimed at tackling serious crime and terrorism.

The group used the Freedom of Information Act to ask 372 local authorities Regulation of Investigatory Power Act (Ripa) and found it was be used, on average, 11 times a day.
Allerdale has admitted using the Act a dozen times in 2007 and 2008, mostly to spy on dog owners. The council said the purpose of one of the investigations was: “To obtain evidence to see if [a] person is walking their dog, cleaning up after it but then depositing poop bag in trees, grass, or on road.”

Other surveillance was carried out to see if a dog was wearing a collar and tag with “possible photographing” being allowed in that instance.

Big Brother Watch campaigns against intrusions of privacy. It says councils such as Allerdale are abusing extensive powers, which allow them to bug homes and vehicles, follow people and use informers.

Alex Deane, the group’s director, said: “Now that the absurd and excessive use of Ripa surveillance has been revealed, these powers have to be taken away from councils.

“The coalition government plan to force councils to get warrants before snooping on us is good but that doesn’t go far enough. If the offence is serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it should be in the hands of the police.”

But Councillor David Wilson, deputy leader of Allerdale, said it was using the law correctly and was mystified as to why it had been singled out.

He said: “We used it four times in 2007 and eight times in 2008 – these were static, covert observations not CCTV cameras after we received numerous complaints about dog fouling and strays in Silloth, Aspatria, Maryport and Workington. Use of the powers was authorised by the borough solicitor.”

Big Brother’s report, called The Grim Ripa catalogues alleged abuses. Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire, and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, used the act to check on staff suspected of faking illness. Other councils said they monitored customers smoking and drinking outside a pub and investigated the “fly tipping” of clothes outside a charity shop.

More than 12 local authorities, including Allerdale, admitted using the Act to check up on dog owners whose pets were suspected of dog fouling. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Council used the act the most often – 231 times in two years.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Surveillance powers should never be used lightly but there are times when it’s clearly in local residents’ interests.


Anonymous said...

I must say, I agree with the chap from the Council. Dog fouling is a serious offence and I'm sure the people from Big Brother Watch would sing a different tune of their toddler had fallen ill due to contamination from dog fouling!