Councils across the UK have abused a law to carry out an extensive spying program on unsuspecting citizens a period of five years, a new report shows.
According to a mass freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats party, at least 186 local authorities have used secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives to spy on Britons under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), The Guardian reported on Sunday.
The freedom of information request was sent to 283 local authorities but nearly 100 of them decided not to reply.
The paper said it was in possession of evidence that showed local authorities were given permission to conduct 55,000 days of covert surveillance.
The report noted that the councils had launched 2,800 separate surveillance operations, some of them stretching over 90 days each.
Midlothian council, for example, used the law to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council tried to find out who was feeding pigeons.
Lancaster city council, meanwhile, used the act for "targeted dog fouling enforcement” in two hotspots over 11 days in 2012.
RIPA’s critics argue that the government has failed to keep its promise on using the spying law only when it is absolutely necessary.
"It is absurd that local authorities are using measures primarily intended for combating terrorism for issues as trivial as a dog barking or the sale of theatre tickets. Spying on the public should be a last resort not an everyday tool,” said Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem who represents the party on home affairs.
The report comes as the British government is already under fire for its plans to conduct an indiscriminate mass gathering of data on British citizens by introducing a bill called the Investigatory Powers Act (IP Act).
Approved by the parliament last month, the law gave far-reaching mass surveillance powers to police and intelligence services.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last week that that the legislation was illegal because it "prescribes general and indiscriminate retention of data.”
The ruling means London cannot implement the legislation as long as it remains a member of the European Union (EU).