Glasgow & West Scotland

South Lanarkshire Council to stop using 'spying powers'

A Scots council has been told to stop using legislation designed to prevent crime and disorder while conducting surveillance against its staff.

Inspectors found that South Lanarkshire Council had referenced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 to monitor three workers.

The law allows covert surveillance against people suspected of wrongdoing.

Inspectors said the legislation should not be used as a term of reference in future surveillance against staff.

The issue was highlighted in a recent report to South Lanarkshire Council's executive committee by Paul Manning, executive director for finance and corporate resources.

Employee surveillance

His report stated that the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners (OSC), which monitors use of the legislation, carried out an inspection of the council on 24 October 2013.

The report noted the council had made use of the legislation in relation to three members of staff.

The report said: "He (the inspector) stated that RIPSA should only be engaged when the council is acting in relation to its core functions and recommended that we cease to use RIPSA in relation to surveillance of our employees.

"It has been agreed with the head of personnel services that RIPSA will no longer be used for this purpose but that surveillance of employees should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as that involved in RIPSA applications.

"A separate set of documentation has been prepared for these purposes which removes reference to RIPSA but otherwise requires the same tests of necessity and proportionality to be met. The unions have been consulted and are in agreement with this action."

Level of scrutiny

Mr Manning told BBC Scotland that the council had "rigorous standards in place for any investigation concerning employees".

"After its routine inspection last year the OSC issued a positive report which stated that 'the council has a professional approach in relation to the use of RIPSA legislation and has appropriate systems and processes in place to conduct covert activity effectively'.

"The OSC recommended four minor changes to the protocols, including that RIPSA should not be used if the council has to carry out surveillance of employees.

"There was no suggestion that any inappropriate surveillance had been done. Rather, the recommendation simply suggested such surveillance should not be under reference to RIPSA.

"We agreed these changes, but in doing so took steps to ensure that any surveillance of employees should remain subject to the same level of scrutiny that is applied to RIPSA applications.

"That offers employees the same levels of protection as the general public, and this was agreed with the trades unions when the changes were made following the OSC inspection."

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