A report from the campaign group ‘Big Brother Watch’ published last month revealed thousands of council officials with the power to demand entry to people’s homes.
The group used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the information, and revealed that nearly 1000 officials in Hampshire posses these powers, with no need for a warrant or police escort.
Although some powers fulfill a legitimate purpose- such as checking up on the living conditions of children- others are slightly harder to justify. Officials can claim entry under such pretexts as inspecting pot plants for pests, measuring hedge height or ensuring that illegal hypnotism is not taking place.
The report identifies over 1043 laws that permit officials to enter private homes, and comic as some may seem, they undermine the principle that private homes should remain free from state intrusion. Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch stated that, “Councils are dishing out powers of entry to officers within their council for their own ease, without giving due thought to the public’s right to privacy and the potential for abuse”.
Some would call this endemic of the stance of many local councils that seem to have little respect for privacy and personal rights.
This is because the pictures often of too low a quality to be used in court. A further report from Big Brother Watch last month revealed 1269 CCTV cameras controlled by Southampton Council (although they initially claimed the figure was as low as 339). In addition to this, recent figures showed one in ten people in Hampshire are on a DNA database despite never having committed a crime.
While some may say if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, our civil rights are important simply for what they are. Liberty and privacy are supposed to be cornerstones of our political system. They won’t be taken away overnight. But there is a possibility that bit by bit, if no one fights for them, they may begin to disappear.