Council officers used covert surveillance to snoop on suspected drug dealers and other criminals in Dundee 19 times over the past year.
Local authorities in Scotland were granted the ability to spy on people suspected of anti-social behaviour under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act, introduced in 2000.
The law gives councils the right to clandestinely set up video cameras or other recording devices in public places, photograph people or follow them if they are suspected of illegal activity.
A report to go before Dundee City Council’s policy and resources committee on Monday reveals the local authority has used these powers 19 times between November 2016 and October this year.
In nine cases, directed surveillance was used to follow up complaints of harassment, vandalism or threats of violence.
It was used five times to investigate allegations of drug dealing and twice because of complaints about unacceptable noise levels.
The powers were also used once to probe a complaint of anti-social behaviour in a close, to record alleged theft or verbal abuse and for the test purchase of cigarettes.
Although councils can set up cameras to record conversations and actions in public areas, they do not have the right to use them in private residences or vehicles. And while they have the power to use “undercover agents or informants”, the report says this has yet to happen in Dundee. Nor has it been necessary to access telecommunications data over the past 12 months.
A council spokesman said: “We respond to complaints from the public about anti-social behaviour and carry out procedures within legal guidelines and the appropriate framework.
“The act is a valuable and effective tool to help combat anti-social behaviour.
“On a number of occasions it has provided the evidence required to resolve complaints and take appropriate action.”
Richard Haley, from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said: “There is a lot of room for misuse because the act gives quite extensive powers.”