Government restricts 'snooping' surveillance

Summary:A wide-ranging new law will strengthen civil liberties, the government has said, and will include a restriction on local government surveillance powers

The government has proposed to restrict council surveillance powers in a draft for a wide-ranging law.

Provisions in the law, the Protection of Freedoms Bill, include a proposal to limit the powers of councils to monitor people for petty transgressions.

Government snooping limits

Snooping in bins is "not necessary for public safety", according to home secretary Theresa May. Photo credit: Home Office

"Millions of householders [will be] protected from town hall snoopers checking their bins or school catchment area," the Home Office said in statement on Friday.

Council powers of surveillance will be limited to investigating crimes that carry a sentence of six months or more, a Home Office spokesman told ZDNet UK on Friday. For example, councils can monitor shops suspected of selling alcohol or cigarettes to underage people, but not for dog-fouling or use of rubbish bins, said the spokesman.

"Snooping on the contents of families' bins and security checking school-run mums are not necessary for public safety, and this bill will bring them to an end," home secretary Theresa May said in the statement. "I am bringing common sense back to public protection and freeing people to go about their daily lives without a fear that the state is monitoring them."

The law proposes to create a surveillance camera commissioner, as well as a code of practice for CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (APNR). Decisions about the deployment of CCTV cameras will be taken by local bodies in consultation with communities, said the spokesman.

The bill also proposes to change the law regarding DNA retention. The government wants to retain DNA from convicts indefinitely, but people who are not convicted will have their DNA records deleted. Those charged with serious sexual or violent offences, but not convicted, will have their DNA data retained for three years, said the spokesman. The government wants to create a National DNA Database Strategy Board to oversee the deletion and retention of data.

The Information Commissioner's Office welcomed the bill on Friday, saying the privacy body would offer "increased privacy safeguards on biometric information such as DNA profiles", and that it would lead to "effective regulation of camera surveillance, including the increasing use of automatic number plate recognition".

Section 44 stop-and-search powers will be scrapped for police, while the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects will be reduced from 28 to 14 days. A biometric material commissioner will also be appointed.


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Topics: Security

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Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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