New Blackpool Council surveillance rules including for social media approved

Blackpool's CCTV control centre
Blackpool's CCTV control centre
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Surveillance policies used by Blackpool Council to tackle crimes such as anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping have been updated.

The new code also takes into account increased use of social media to check up on individuals such as those owing money to the council.

Other techniques range from the open use of CCTV cameras to employing undercover officers and informants.

A report to the council's Audit Committee, which approved the new policy, said it was necessary to bring it up to date to reflect good practice and ensure a consistent approach.

Strong guidelines around surveillance are also needed to ensure it is used legally and does not infringe on human rights.

The report says: "The use of online open source internet and social media research techniques has become a productive method of obtaining information to assist the council with its regulatory and enforcement functions."

But the report warns there are risks of breeching someone's privacy and long-term monitoring of a person on Facebook would require approval through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

It adds: "RIPA provides the legal framework for lawful interference to ensure that any activity undertaken, together with the information obtained, is HRA (Human Rights Act) compatible."

Council chief executive Neil Jack said the rules around monitoring CCTV were "very rigorous" right down to the direction in which cameras were allowed to be pointed, while strict rules were also imposed around monitoring someone on social media.

Committee chairman Coun Paul Galley said he felt the updated policy reflected the council's needs.

He said: "It is an area that is moving fast in terms of technology, and you only have to look at the nature of CCTV technology to see that."

Changes include that councils can only authorise directed surveillance for crimes serious enough to be punishable by a maximum of at least six months in prison, or which involve the sale of alcohol or tobacco to children.

Ensuring surveillance meet the requirements of RIPA also ensures any surveillance is legal, protects the council from legal challenge and ensures any evidence obtained is legal.