MACCLESFIELD’S Big Brother could be watching you...

Tough new surveillance laws giving councils powers to spy on people are being used in the borough.

The Express has learnt that several residents have been "covertly" investigated in the past year using powers made legal under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), or RIPA as it is known.

Town Hall chiefs admit staff have used "covert equipment" and carried out short stake-outs outside residents’ homes using RIPA powers – to catch benefit cheats.

RIPA hit the headlines after the head of the Local Government Association (LGA), which lobbies on behalf of councils, publically criticised some local authorities for spying on people over "trivial matters".

In a letter to every UK council, Sir Simon Milton said using RIPA to investigate dog-fouling and litter offences was "over-zealous" and that it should only be used to target fly-tippers, rogue traders and council tax and housing benefit cheats.

Both MBC and County Hall insist they have always followed these guidelines.

Cheshire County Council has used the act eight times in the last 12 months in trading standards investigations into fraud and deceit.

An MBC spokesman said "covert surveillance" powers had been used five times in the past two years.

"When trained investigation officers undertake covert surveillance, it is part of a directed and planned activity," he said."We may follow people on foot or in vehicles to work to establish that they do work or where they work. The surveillance would be cancelled as soon as enough information is gathered to help prove or disprove the case. Our surveillance may involve the recording of activities using covert equipment or just general personally recorded observations."

Whatever they did first gained official authorisation and homes were monitored for minutes rather than hours, he added.

CCTV footage could also be called upon under the act, he added.

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