Snooping on Bristol citizens will only be a "last resort", claims one of the city's council leaders.
The city's housing chief Mark Wright, claims he has pushed through a series of measures which limit the council's ability to snoop on citizens.
He claims the national laws - known as RIPA
- should only be used by Bristol City Council as a "last resort" and that the council must recognise using them counts as a clear breach of people's privacy.
All requests to use the powers must now be vetted by a council scrutiny panel, and senior officials will have to make sure staff fully understand how to use the laws.
All councils are entitled to apply for permission to spy on citizens using the RIPA laws. In extreme cases, the laws allow local authorities to intercept telephone calls and emails, bug people's homes and cars and use undercover police officers to follow them.
They are supposed to be used in cases of serious crime and terrorism, but there has been controversy over local authorities using them in relatively trivial circumstances.
It has been reported that one council followed a family to check they lived in the right catchment area for a particular school, and spied on fisherman to check for illegal cockle-catchers.
Mark Wright told JACK fm: "Some councils have been overstepping the mark in terms of what they use these powers for. They are supposed to be a last resort, but some bodies have been straying beyond the boundaries. They have been snooping on people for relatively trivial things.
"Using these powers is an invasion of privacy. In the new rules which I have pushed through this week, it is clear that this will only be done as a last resort and in cases where it is serious and to prevent criminal activity.
"There is no point trying to deny that it is an invasion of prvacy because it absolutely is. If the council can produce evidence to say there is a serious crime going on, the law says it's OK to invade privacy in certain cases.
"But it's because we are concerned about privacy that we have tightened up these rules and will make it very clear that if the council wants to do this they have to be dead sure that what they're doing is serious enought o warrant it.
If we're concerned about people walking their dogs or silly things like that, it is absolutely not enough reason to authorise this sort of council snooping."
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