This week Big Brother Watch forced a U-turn from Brent Council after writing to the local authority regarding their publication of a job advert seeking 5 new COVID-19 Enforcement Officers. The council’s advertisement stated that officers would have “investigative abilities” and may even be tasked with covert deployments.
Under new powers set out in COVID-19 legislation, the Government has given significant powers to local authorities to impose coronavirus regulations, granting their ‘designated officers’, in addition to police officers and PCSOs, the power to use force – despite the fact they are untrained in the use of force.
However, the new law gives no power to local authorities to covertly spy on residents. In fact, to do so absent a serious justification and judicial authorisation would be a breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Big Brother Watch is concerned that the covert deployment of local authority officials would be disproportionate, unlawful and would undermine public trust in authorities.
Following our correspondence to the Chief Executive of Brent Council, we received a response which stated: “having given your letter detailed consideration, we have withdrawn the words ‘covertly and overtly’ from the job description for the posts.”
This change of approach is welcome. Councils should focus their resources on supporting people affected by the crisis – not treating them like potential criminals.
You can find a copy of our letter here.