Council using covert listening devices to ‘spy on residents’

Councils use gadgets like those featured in spy films such as James Bond to snoop. Picture: AP
Councils use gadgets like those featured in spy films such as James Bond to snoop. Picture: AP
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COUNCIL workers have used undercover tactics to spy on residents to find out if they are breaking the law.

Listening devices hidden in suitcases have been used as well as covert cameras to snoop on blue badge cheats, nuisance neighbours and illegal money lenders.

Surveillance techniques were deployed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Scotland Act (RIPSA).

The controversial legislation was introduced in 2000 to make sure that the surveillance of people involved in serious crimes such as terrorism was properly regulated during investigations.

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Although the act states that the powers can also be used to prevent or detect crimes in the interests of public safety.

Permission has been granted by local authorities in the Moray, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Highland regions to spy on residents 156 times over the past five years.

Investigations were most often launched by Trading Standards officers to find out whether shops were selling illegal cigarettes or tobacco to children.

In Aberdeen, the MATRON system was used to gather evidence on a noisy neighbour blaring loud music.

The noise monitoring devices come hidden in a suitcase to avoid arousing suspicions when it is installed in a next door property.

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “In accordance with government legislation, Aberdeen City Council uses such investigatory powers where appropriate to protect public safety.”

Council employees use RIPSA legislation to “make observations” of a person in a covert manner, without that person’s knowledge. But their targets could take them to court under human rights legislation if their actions are intrusive.

An Aberdeenshire Council spokeswoman said: “Under this piece of legislation, the use of investigatory powers for certain specified statutory purposes is permitted by the Scottish Government.

“For example, investigations have been carried out into the supply of diet pills or counterfeit tobacco, which were in the interests of public health as well as the fact that their supply constitutes a breach of Trading Standards legislation and is a criminal offence.

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“As a further example, investigations into anti-social behaviour have meant covert surveillance could be carried out to try and determine those responsible and bring them to justice.

“Aberdeenshire Council has a responsibility for both Trading Standards and protecting our communities from anti-social behaviour and the use of the legislation in these examples and the others cases referenced is legitimate and exactly the kind of thing council resources should be used for.

“If there is a need to use the legislation, we will not hesitate to do so proportionately to protect our communities.”