Lincolnshire County Council was one of 186 local authorities to use the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence with secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives over the last five years.
A mass Freedom of Information request by The Guardian found that of the 283 local authorities that responded, Lincolnshire County Council was given permission to use the surveillance powers for the largest number of days — almost 4,000 — part of which was a major operation in 2012 to prevent alcohol sold to underage teenagers, and attempts to stop counterfeit goods at markets and car boot sales.
Mark Keal from Lincolnshire Trading Standards told the paper: “Without this evidence it is incredibly difficult to get successful prosecutions and get these products off the street.”
The report added Lincolnshire County Council stressed that while they had sought permission for a large number of days, the operations usually spanned a much shorter period.
Among other detailed examples provided were Midlothian Council using the powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale Borough Council gathering evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons.
To use Ripa powers, local council requests must be authorised by a magistrate and with the new Investigatory Powers Act, this will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who will be a serving or former senior judge.