There's something quite strange about the looking-glass world that is Britain today. I know this is the case because when I relay news stories from the U.K. to friends, relatives and colleagues in other countries, I find myself having to begin my tale with "I'm not making this up". That, sadly, tells you something terrible about our society. Anyway, sometime back, I said in a post about the Home Secretary's extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that
I'd lay a pound to a penny that the first time Woking council invoke their new Stalinist powers it will not be to defeat a cunning plot by international terrorists dedicated to our destruction but in a dispute over hedges or car parking.[From Citizen of the World... (Well, Woking)]
I can't tell you how upset I am to find my status as a guru confirmed by the news of the last couple of days. It transpires that
Councils and other public bodies are using legislation designed to combat terrorism in order to spy on people, obtain their telephone records and find out who they are emailing... Last year, councils and government departments made 12,494 applications for "directed surveillance", according to figures released by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. This was almost double the number for the previous year.[From Council spy cases hit 1,000 a month - Telegraph]
Note that, in comparison, applications from police and other law enforcement agencies fell during the same period, to about 19,000. The trend is very clear: soon, councils will be conducting more surveillance than MI5. Are the councils using the legislation to keep track of budding suicide bombers? No, of course not. The whole reason that this has blown up now is that one council was caught... well, I'm not making this up:
A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment. A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks. The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total. Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications. It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.[From BBC NEWS | England | Dorset | Council admits spying on family]
For puzzled overseas readers I must point out that the education system in the U.K. is so bad that parents who are unable to afford private school fees that have been inflated by Russian oligarchs, civil servants and celebrities will do anything to try and get their kids into the dwindling number of decent schools. One couple I know (not in Woking) gave their in-laws address, for example, because it was in the catchment area of a good school. In the socialist paradise of local authorities, this is considered an unpardonable sin. Hence the campaign to drive these terrible people (ie, middle class parents who want a good education for their kids) out of our neighbourhoods.