March of the dustbin Stasi: Half of councils use anti-terror laws to watch people putting rubbish out on the wrong day

More than half of town halls admit using anti-terror laws to spy on families suspected of putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.

Their tactics include putting secret cameras in tin cans, on lamp posts and even in the homes of 'friendly' residents.

The local authorities admitted that one of their main aims was to catch householders who put their bins out early.
The shocking way in which the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - an anti-terror law - is being used was revealed through freedom of information requests made by the Daily Mail.

MPs and civil liberties groups last night accused councils of using the draconian powers for trivial reasons.

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty said: 'Snooping appears to have become the favourite pastime in town halls up and down the land.

'Common sense has gone out of the window and instead of putting out more bins, councils spy on householders as if they were terrorists.'

Tory communities spokesman Eric Pickles said: 'Under Labour, the rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens are being eroded through plans for ID cards, sinister microchip spies in bins and abuse of anti-terror laws by councils.

'Taxpayers' money is being wasted on bankrolling an army of municipal bureaucrats who have watched too many episodes of Spooks.'

The Mail requested information from all of the 474 councils in England. Of the 151 which replied, some 77 - more than half - said they had used the legislation in the last three years for suspected 'domestic waste, littering or fly-tipping offences'.

Although it is ostensibly an anti-terror law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, or RIPA, is worded so loosely that it can be used to justify surveillance operations for a variety of reasons.

These include spying to 'protect public health' or the 'economic well-being of the UK'.

This means that councils can use the powers granted by the Act to monitor families' treatment of household waste.

In Lincolnshire, West Lindsey District Council uses the new powers to place motion-activated cameras on lamp posts to catch homeowners putting their bins out at the wrong time.

One officer told an undercover reporter: 'In some areas, particularly where there is terraced housing, we have a problem with people putting their black rubbish bags out three or four days early.

'When they have been left in alleyways or at the rear of terraced properties, it is difficult to identify exactly who has placed them there.

'The cameras are hidden in tin cans or put on lamp posts and allow us to monitor who is coming out of which property and leaving their rubbish. Sometimes we are able to put these cameras inside peoples' homes that overlook the alleyways.

Shami Chakrabarti

Shami Chakrabarti: 'Snooping appears to have become the favourite pastime in town halls up and down the land'

'These are usually residents who have complained to us about rubbish being dumped outside their house on the wrong day.'

The council said it had been able to hand out 'several' fixed penalty notices on the basis of the evidence it had obtained.

Officers at Southwark District Council also admitted that they had mounted cameras on lamp posts to spy on residents suspected of leaving rubbish out at the wrong time.

The revelations have raised fresh concerns about the Home Office's plans to create a 'Big Brother' database of every citizen's e-mail and internet records.

Ministers say that councils will not have access to the information.

But critics point out that RIPA, which was passed as anti-terror legislation, is now being routinely used by town halls - and the same could happen with the database.

Phil Booth, of the NO2ID campaign, said that public bodies were 'assembling the tools of a totalitarian state'.

He added: 'We are no longer living in what most would recognise as a free society. This is not justifiable or proportionate.'

Mark Wallace, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It is crazy that so many councils are using anti-terror legislation to spy on their residents. It must cost a huge amount for all these concealed cameras, just to give a few people relatively low-level fines.'

Other local authorities which gave details of how they used RIPA included Lewes District Council in East Sussex.

It admitted that the Act was used to gain evidence on residents who persistently left rubbish out at the wrong time.

South Bedfordshire council also admitted going through phone bills inside rubbish bags to identify who had left them outside.

Officers also electronically tagged certain types of rubbish to find out if they had been dumped illegally.

Wycombe District council in Buckinghamshire put an electronic tag on rubbish left outside a shop to see if it was taken.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said: 'The LGA has written to councils to say that surveillance should not be undertaken unless it is absolutely necessary and proportionate to the crime that's being investigated.

'Councils have a duty to protect their residents and are tuned in to the worries people might have about surveillance.

'These powers are essential in making sure that benefits cheats, fly-tippers, rogue traders and other serious criminals are caught and brought to justice.'

Spooktacular! But will your family's Halloween pumpkin look as scary as this tonight?

In windows across Britain tonight, ghoulish faces, carved from pumpkins and illuminated by candles, will stare out eerily at passers-by.

But while most are no more than two eyes and a toothy grin, Scott Cummins and Ray Villafane have taken their pumpkin heads to a whole new level - as these extraordinary pictures show.

In just an hour or two of carving, slicing and gouging, and using everything from spoons and scalpels to garden spades, these incredible pumpkin Picassos can transform a humble Halloween gourd into a spitting image of Barack Obama or a Star Wars stormtrooper.

Using his background in high art and his work in designing models for D.C and Marvel comics, Ray, 39, has sculpted intricate faces out of the common pumpkin that make your hair stand on end.

Based in the rural Michigan town of Ballaire, Ray's pumpkins have become something of an internet sensation, and include some familiar faces.

His carvings, which include 'The Predator' and Barack Obama, also take in a wide variety of gothic gargoyles in keeping with the devilish theme of the popular American holiday.

Using only common clay carving tools to create his Halloween pumpkin masterpieces, Ray explains how his artistic method works.

'Not all pumpkins will look good and the most important thing about a pumpkin is it weight. You need to pick the meatiest pumpkin.

'Sometimes I pick up a beautifully shaped pumpkin but when I pick it up I realise that it is not heavy enough. Its wall is just not thick enough for the carving rigours.

'I also like a pumpkin with character. One with nobly ridges is good, so that I can utilise that in the carving procedure, like with sculpting noses,' says Ray.

'The sculpting has always been a passion,' says Ray.

'I used to be an art teacher for 13 years at a Michigan School called Bellaire school and one day I was approached for Halloween to do some pumpkin carving.

'I thought why don't I try and carve the pumpkin like it is a piece of clay as opposed to a large vegetable.

'It came out alright, but the most important result was that the kids at the school absolutely loved it.

'I used to arrive at school and there would be a dozen pumpkins just sitting there waiting for me at my classroom,' explains the pumpkin carver.

At the beginning Ray didn't always get the results he was looking for, resulting in a few fists through the front of the pumpkins.

However, working for D.C comics, the home of Superman and Batman, Ray has honed his incredible seasonal talent.

'Recently I have been really sitting down and giving my Halloween pumpkin designs more thought than usual due to the increased interest in my carvings.

'Now that the thing has grown in popularity I am definitely feeling the pressure to deliver on the pumpkin front.

'The most intricate pumpkin model that I have designed is 'The Predator' model, which took the best part of a day. Otherwise, the models take a couple of hours,' says Ray.

Over the last two Halloween's Ray's pumpkins have begun to appear in online blogs and have really raised his profile.

He has even made national television appearances and has been scheduled to appear on the US sports network ESPN where he is supposed to unveil his Barack Obama carving.

Obviously, carving a potential president is a serious pressure, so Ray has to ensure that he gets it right.

'If it is someone like Obama or even the Predator then I will have to use five or six images to make sure that I get the right details.

'If it is something that I am creating myself then I will do it off the top of my head, like the skull and gargoyles,' says Ray.

Around this time pumpkin carvings are usually a couple of triangles cut on the outside of the flesh, with his carvings Ray has seriously raised the bar to frightening levels.


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