Dundee City Council has been cautioned by senior legal chiefs over its use of so-called “snooping powers” to spy on locals suspected of wrongdoing.
The council can use powers delegated to it under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPSA) to investigate complaints.
Covert activities typically occur within trading standards and teams investigating benefit fraud and antisocial behaviour.
However, Lord Justice Fulford, the investigatory powers commissioner, has warned “weaknesses” in the way the council justifies its use of directed surveillance could put its integrity at risk. In a letter to the council’s chief executive David Martin, Lord Justice Fulford wrote: “There are areas of concern that must be addressed if full compliance is to be ensured.
“Of particular importance is the decision by authorising officers on the fundamental questions of necessity and proportionality and their written record of how they approached these issues. Weaknesses in this context undermine the integrity of the entire authorisation process.”
The report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO), set to be reviewed by councillors next week, issued a “critical” recommendation over the council’s use of surveillance.
Inspectors allege officers were failing to properly describe “why (surveillance) is both necessary and proportionate”.
The IPCO also found councillors were not being given a summary of its use of RIPSA powers at the recommended rate of once a year, and has asked the council to do so.
Official figures show the council authorised 19 uses of surveillance between April last year and March this year. The majority of authorisations related to excessive noise, while others were used to tackle antisocial behaviour, drug dealing or to carry out test purchases of cigarettes using underage buyers. Commenting on IPCO’s findings, the local authority’s executive director of corporate services Greg Colgan said the council was making efforts to comply with the recommendations issued.
He added: “Whenever considering directed surveillance, the council has to balance whether the action is both necessary and proportionate.
“In every case a senior officer of the council considers these issues and authorises the directed surveillance.”