From today’s Daily Mail, following up the story about the widespread using of snooping powers by councils (as covered yesterday by Home Office Watch):
Nine in ten of 10,000 spied on by councils using anti-terrorism powers are innocent
The revelation intensified the controversy over local councils using anti-terror powers to spy on those suspected of ‘crimes’ such as putting their bins out on the wrong day.
The legislation, which allows secret filming and even the trailing of suspects by undercover officials, has been used by councils at least 10,333 times over the past five years…
Others targeted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) have included those suspected of littering or letting a dog foul the footpath.
But details obtained through Freedom of Information laws reveal that only 9 per cent of authorisations have led to a successful prosecution, caution or fixed-penalty notice
In the remaining 91 per cent of cases, those investigated were found to have done no wrong.
Liberal Democrat local government spokesman Julia Goldsworthy, who obtained the figures, said: ‘This Government has seen civil liberties as little more than a temporary inconvenience.’
It seems to me the figures are significant for two particular reasons. First, they provide an important pragmatic argument which complements principled arguments over civil rights. As Lynne Featherstone has often put it: the government should be spending our money trying to catch the guilty rather than keeping tabs on the innocent. Second, as the extent of the Mail‘s coverage for this story (not just today) shows, this angle is particularly attractive to a wider audience who traditional arguments over civil liberties often don’t reach.