Revealed: 800 public bodies now have powers to 'snoop dog' on our phones and emails.



Almost 800 public bodies have assumed powers to "snoop" on our phone records or private correspondence, it emerged yesterday.

The "surveillance state" powers have been handed to prison bosses, the police, Environment Agency, NHS Trusts, fire chiefs, Post Office and 474 local councils.

Local authorities made 1,700 requests to access mobile phone records and other private information in the last nine months of 2006 - using them to catch "criminals" such as fly-tippers.

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State spying that would make the Stasi proud


On average, there are 28,000 requests every month to access personal data, according to Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy.

Privacy groups said it was yet another march towards a "Big Brother" society in a country which already has the world's largest DNA database and greatest number of CCTV cameras.

Phil Booth, of the NO2ID campaign, said: "Powers that were brought in for the most dramatic of reasons are now being used to pursue suspected fly-tippers.

"You have to apply to a court to tap an Al Qaeda terrorist, but a council worker can check your phone calls with a simple request. The potential for abuse is enormous."

Sir Paul has responsibility for checking applications made by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, 52 police forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency - which have the right to intercept telephone calls.

Others with intercept powers include HM Revenue and Customs, the Royal Military Police and the British Transport Police.

Other public bodies which can check phone records if it would help to trap a criminal include councils and bodies such as the Serious Fraud Office, ambulance services and fire authorities.

Sir Paul also checks the country's 139 prisons. They have the power to intercept mail and telephone calls between inmates and members of the public - taking the total of those who can be granted authorisations to snoop to 792.

Watching you: Security services and other agencies requested permission to carry out almost 1,000 bugging operations a day

In his annual report, Sir Paul said 122 councils took advantage of their powers in the last nine months of 2006, making 1,694 requests.

Sir Paul said they were mainly used to trap rogue traders, flytippers and fraudsters.

The report said many public bodies were applying for the power to intercept correspondence without actually using them.

Sir Paul said: "If this state of affairs continues unexplained, then consideration must be given to removing the powers from them."

Councils insisted they were making proper use of the power to ask for telephone subscriber and billing information when investigating or preventing a crime.

Officials said the information can help confirm where a suspected criminal was at a certain time.

Councils cannot get details of the content of any phone calls or emails, although other public bodies such as the police and intelligence services can.

Geoffrey Theobald, chairman of local council group LACORS, said: "Councils have systems in place to make sure these powers are only used where necessary and proportionate. Councils cannot tap people's phones."

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