Southwark Council plays Big Brother

By Miranda Bryant

Anti-terror laws are being exploited by Southwark Council to catch residents committing minor offences, an investigation exposed this week.

The council admitted to The Platform that it used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to spy on residents to combat fly-tipping, which is the dumping of waste in unauthorised areas. 

CCTVA Freedom of Information investigation by a national newspaper found that 200 organisations, including councils, were using the law to spy, intercept phone calls and access personal computers.

The Southwark Council was found to be mounting cameras on lampposts to watch residents suspected of leaving rubbish out at the wrong time. One local government even used the law to stalk a six-year-old going to school to check if she was living in the right catchment area.

A spokesperson for Southwark Council said: “As a council, we’re committed to using the Act in a responsible, targeted and proportionate way, to provide the reassurance and protection that our local residents deserve.”

However, residents remain concerned. “It’s going too far and it’s scary,” said mother-of-three Hendrick Anthony, from Elephant and Castle. “A stranger following my child to school would be totally wrong.”

Other residents share Anthony’s view. Lucas Lisanak, who has lived in Borough for four years, felt his civil liberties had already been alarmingly reduced: “The council should deal with issues in other ways.” Another Southwark resident said: “It’s definitely a step closer to a nanny state.”

A local parents’ forum spokesperson said parents would support CCTV, but there are still concern about councils using Ripa: “It’s wrong to use anti-terror laws to get information because that’s not what they’re for.”

“If I was paying council tax, I think I would be annoyed that my money was being spent on that” – Aleah Jones, Southwark resident

Only one person approached by The Platform in a snap survey said they supported the council using surveillance cameras to spy on residents. Darren, a novice boxer, said the borough’s rubbish problem is so great it warrants extreme measures: “This place is disgusting because people treat it like crap. The estate that my uncle and aunt live on was named the dirtiest estate in London.”

Michael Parker, a spokesman for NO2ID – the independent civil liberty organisation against ID cards – said: “RIPA is being used for mundane reasons by people who are not properly trained or mandated. We are very concerned.”

The debate has also reached the arts world. Greg James, a Radio 1 DJ who recently moved to London Bridge said: “I think they only have their best interests at heart. They’re not doing it for any seedy reason. I’m all up for it. But if there was some bloke at my window with a camera then that’d be the line.”

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