Suffolk: Terrorism powers used by trading standards to “make test purchases of a puppy”

SUFFOLK County Council has defended its decision to use powers designed to combat terrorism and serious crime on trading standards cases.

Local councils have carried out more than 9,000 surveillance operations over a three-year period, campaign group Big Brother Watch said.

It said details obtained from 345 local authorities across the UK under the Freedom of Information Act showed they conducted operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) on 9,607 occasions between 2008 and 2011 – more than eight a day.

Among the cases highlighted in the report was Suffolk County Council, which was said to have used Ripa to make test purchases of a puppy, dating agency services and at a house of horrors.

The report said that such cases showed the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the legislation.

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“The legislative framework of surveillance does not offer proper safeguards against abuse or transparency,” it said.

“It is absurd that the regulation of the test purchase of a puppy falls under the same legislation that governs when security services can intercept communications.”

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A Suffolk Trading Standards spokeswoman said; “Suffolk Trading Standards uses RIPA legislation sparingly and only when we are investigating cases where consumers are at serious risk or honest businesses are losing out to rogue traders.

“This includes cases where shops have been selling alcohol laced with chemicals, people are illegally selling and mistreating animals and traders are exploiting vulnerable people.

“Our use of the legislation has reduced significantly in the last three years and we will continue to monitor its use.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) said that councils used Ripa “sparingly and responsibly” to combat crimes of public concern.

Mehboob Khan, chairman of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said that on average a local authority only used Ripa powers less than 10 times a year while council requests for communications data under the act made up only 0.3% of all requests received.

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