A Freedom of Information request has revealed North Ayrshire Council has 16 members of staff authorised to carry out surveillance on local people suspected of breaking the law.
The staff report to 3 further officials who direct surveillance under provisions contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act. the3towns can reveal that the officers tasked with authorising and overseeing surveillance operations are the Council’s Chief Revenues and Benefits Officer and two Housing Divisional Managers.
The 16 officials who carry out surveillance relating to suspected crimes work within Trading Standards, the Anti-Social Behaviour team and Benefits Investigation. Staff have received training in ‘Basic Surveillance’, ‘Covert Video Surveillance Techniques’ and ‘Covert Vehicle Presentation’.
As part of their responsibilities, the 3 senior officials in charge of investigations can authorise the use of a ‘covert human intelligence source’, which can be a staff member planted within a community to gather evidence of wrong-doing.
Under the terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act, local authorities should only use surveillance powers to gather evidence against individuals or groups suspected of serious crime, such as benefit fraud or high-level anti-social behaviour. Councils can eavesdrop on conversations or photograph suspects in a public place, and do not require court or police permission to launch investigations.
With regard to surveillance operations carried out by Scotland’s 32 councils, a spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities sought to address human-rights-organisations’ concerns of Big Brother-style snooping by insisting “The use [of Regulation of Investigatory Powers legislation] is proportionate, necessary and legal.”