Phones tapped at the rate of 1,000 a day
Britain is in danger of becoming a "surveillance state" as authorities including councils launch bugging operations against 1,000 people a day.
Councils, police and intelligence services are tapping and intercepting the phone calls, emails and letters of hundreds of thousands of people every year, an official report said.
A total of 653 state bodies — including 474 councils — have the power to intercept private communications.
Bugging is usually carried out by MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the police and most people are targeted on suspicion of terrorism or serious crime.
But under laws that came into force eight years ago hundreds of public bodies can carry out surveillance.
These include the Financial Services Authority, the Ambulance Service and local fire authorities and prison governors.
Those being bugged include people suspected of illegal fly-tipping as councils use little known powers to carry out increasingly sophisticated surveillance to catch offenders.
The report, by Sir Paul Kennedy, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, has fuelled fears that Britain is becoming a state where private communications are routinely monitored.
It also found that more than 1,000 of the bugging operations were flawed. In some cases, the phones of innocent people were tapped simply because of administrative errors.
David Winnick, a Labour member of the Commons home affairs committee, said greater legal protection was needed to prevent abuse of surveillance powers. Britain already has more CCTV cameras per person than any other country in the world.
In total, the intelligence services, plus police forces, local authorities and agencies such as the serious fraud office made 253,500 requests for phone taps, the interception of emails or post in the final nine months of 2006.
In the nine months to the end of 2006, 122 councils sought to obtain private communications in more than 1,600 cases.
But the number of requests have actually dropped when compared to the previous 15 months. During the period in 2005-6, 439,000 bugging operations were launched, which were understood to have peaked due to the July 7 terrorist bombings.
Sir Paul, a former Lord Justice of Appeal who took over as the spy watchdog in April 2006, repeated a previous call to allow security services to tap MPs' phones.
He complained that a code introduced by Labour premier Harold Wilson in 1966 which forbids eavesdropping on Parliamentarians was 'totally indefensible'.
A crooked private detective who helped to spy on Tamara Mellon, the founder of the Jimmy Choo designer shoe firm, was jailed for 21 months yesterday.
David Carroll played a leading role in a London agency specialising in computer hacking and telephone tapping.
Clients could choose from a shopping list of confidential information. Phone tapping cost £3,000, itemised line billing £750 a month, while personal banking information could be bought for £2,000 and confidential medical records for £500.
Hacking into a computer, using viruses made to order by an expert in the United States, was available for £5,000. ….