William Eichler 04 November 2015

Council staff could face prison for abusing surveillance powers

Local authority workers who abuse powers to spy on the public for ‘trivial’ offences will face two years in jail under laws unveiled by the Government today.

The new legislation could also lead to councils being banned from accessing the public’s Internet browsing history if they are found to be misusing it.

The Investigatory Powers Bill — an update of what has been dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’ —includes these safeguards in a bid to make it more palatable to sceptical MPs and civil liberties campaigners.

Yesterday the prime minister described the new Bill as 'one of the most important pieces of legislation' in this parliament and said the proposals go 'to the heart of the Government's duty to keep the British public safe'.

They are in place to tackle serious crime such as terrorism, child abuse and fraud.

However, the legislation still contains the following contentious proposals:

• It will compel Internet firms to retain details of the public’s Internet records for 12 months.
• It will allow the authorities to force web companies to hand over encrypted apps and emails on the production of a warrant.
• Ministers will retain the power to sign off on warrants allowing MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the police to access personal computers and monitor the contents.
• It will provide a legal framework for GCHQ to collect people’s personal data—including mobile phone numbers and Internet searches.

Before today surveillance powers were governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) but, after a number of high profile cases of council staff using the powers to deal with ‘trivial’ matters, it was felt further checks needed to be introduced.

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