British anti-terror law used to spy on three-year-old

April 19, 2008

As the British parliament is discussing proposals to extend its "anti-terrorism" laws even further, existing anti-terrorism laws have been used to conduct surveillance on a family wrongly suspected of lying on a school application form.

The parents had tried for several weeks to enrol their three-year-old daughter in a local school and then discovered that their local council had used Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on them.

The council "spies" made copious notes on the movements of the 39-year-old mother and her three children, who they referred to as "targets" as they were trailed on school runs.

The April 14 London Daily Telegraph reported that this "has led to fears that parents all over the country could be monitored by councils cracking down on those who bend the rules to get their children into a good school.

"The act was pushed through by the government in 2000 to allow police and other security agencies to carry out surveillance on serious organised crime and terrorists. It has since been taken up by councils to catch those carrying out any 'criminal activity'."

The mother told the Telegraph: "I'm incensed that legislation designed to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old. It was very creepy when we found out that people had been watching us and making notes."

James Welch, a spokesperson for the civil rights group Liberty, said: "It's one thing for anti-terror police to use covert surveillance, but it has come to a pretty pass when it becomes the tool of the school catchment area police. This is a disproportionate and unnecessarily intrusive use of RIPA."

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