Thanet council has confirmed the authority applied to the courts for permission to use powers which allow secret surveillance in connection to an investigation of one of its own departments.
The authority made an application on October 23, 2017, for authorisation to use techniques covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in connection to an investigation of the parking enforcement department.
RIPA is an Act of Parliament regulating the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation and the interception of communications. The aim of the powers is to fight terrorism and combat crime.
The 2016 Investigatory Powers Act, which takes in RIPA powers alongside a raft of new measures, means it can only now be used if criminal activity is suspected. The bill has been nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter by privacy campaigners.
Covert surveillance is generally restricted to cases in the interests of national security; for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime or in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK.
The RIPA application by Thanet council was rejected by the court.
The authority previously used the powers last December when the Streetscene team successfully obtained TDC’s first court approved RIPA authorisation to install covert directed video cameras to catch flytippers using land next to the A299 between the St Nicholas and Monkton roundabouts.
The same month former council deputy leader Lin Fairbrass confirmed on social media that an investigation concerning the parking enforcement department was taking place, although she did not provide the reason for that investigation.
Asked whether TDC carried out any tracking surveillance in connection with the investigation a council spokesman said: “We do not comment on internal operational matters.”
‘Internal employment process’
Thanet council said it could not comment “on internal staffing matters” when asked about the current employment position of staff in the department but confirmed parking enforcement duties are still being carried out in-house.
The council spokesman said they were currently unable to confirm the number of staff in the department, adding: “Staff numbers remain subject to an internal employment process.”
The GMB (General Municipal Boilermakers) general trade union is supporting a number of members connected to the parking enforcement department.
A GMB spokesman said the union was currently unable to comment because it is “a live case.”
A Thanet council spokesman said: “The council cannot comment on individual cases. However, the council has a duty to protect the public purse and, where it suspects fraudulent activity, will use all means necessary to investigate the matter and this can include applying to the court for an authorisation to carry out covert surveillance.”