A tribunal will today seek to challenge the right of local councils to use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIP Act) to snoop on citizens.
Civil rights group Liberty said that a case involving an individual called Jenny Paton is being heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which intends to challenge the "frivolous use of these intrusive powers".
Paton was placed under surveillance by Poole Borough Council last year to determine whether she lived in her declared school catchment area, according to Liberty.
"Jenny Paton is bringing a vital test case on behalf of ordinary members of the British public. If a mother going about her lawful business can be followed and spied upon in this frankly very creepy fashion, where does that leave the rest of us?" said James Welch, a legal director at Liberty who is representing Paton.
"It is to be hoped that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal upholds her complaint. But if it does not, and the council's actions are judged appropriate, we should all be very worried indeed."
Meanwhile, the UK government has revealed plans to limit the reach of the RIP Act. In August it was revealed that the government had been looking at emails belonging to one out of every 78 UK citizens. The figures were uncovered in a report from the Interception of Communications Minister, and included that fact that public authorities had made over half a million requests last year to intercept public communications.
This represented an increase of 44 per cent since 2006. Possibly seeking to curb this rampant, and apparently often trivial, snooping, the government has raised the bar for the approval of such interceptions.
"It is absolutely clear that a wide range of public authorities need to be able to authorise key techniques under the RIP Act in order to protect us from those who would do us harm," said David Hanson, minister of state for security, counter-terrorism, crime and policing.
"It is equally clear that public authorities must respect our right to privacy, and only use techniques under the RIP Act when it is necessary and proportionate to do so."
Documents released to support the announcement suggest that in some cases the RIP Act has been used to spy on citizens accused of some unusual crimes.
The Home Office said that new legislation and a code of practice will " clarify the test of necessity and proportionality so that the techniques will not be used to investigate dog fouling or people putting bins out a day early".
The department added that changes would "raise the rank of authorising officer for RIP Act techniques in local authorities to senior executive at a minimum of director level". Hanson said that an officer will be employed at each council to further oversee this ruling.
The announcements follow the closing of a consultation on the RIP Act, which finished in July, and Liberty is hoping that they will go further than is currently suggested.
"Liberty has long campaigned against disproportionate snooping. We are representing Jenny Paton in her legal action against Poole Council for using intrusive powers sold in the name of fighting serious crime and terrorism to spy on an innocent family," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty.
"The government should understand that tinkering at the edges of the RIP Act is not enough. Only a complete overhaul will restore public trust in lawful surveillance and political promises."
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