Safeguarding Privacy in the HomeThe privacy of the home is under threat through the widespread powers of entry at the disposal of the state, but what efforts are being made to protect our private domain?

The Right to Privacy in the Home

Recent years have seen a heightened government interest in monitoring the behaviour of its citizens with the aid of CCTV and all manner of personal data collection facilities. Surveillance can potentially benefit the populace by helping preserve public safety and security, but it comes at the expense of civil liberties.

The debate about whether it is worth the compromise rages on but something most would agree on is that citizens expect to be free of state intrusion once behind their own front door. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that even the privacy of the home is at threat.

Undue Rights of the State

Unbeknownst to most citizens, there are believed to be over 1200 different reasons why a council official may be permitted to enter a householder’s home without their permission or a warrant. It is also estimated that between 15,000 to 20,000 council officials are able to exercise this power.

Considering the police need a warrant to enter someone’s home and private landlord needs to give written warning if they want to enter one of their own leased properties, it is difficult to comprehend why the council are exempt from such formalities.

Householders can take measures to protect their homes from criminals but there a little they can do to safeguard their privacy from state officials.

Powers of Entry

Granted by Acts of Parliament ‘Powers of entry’ permit officials to enter private properties for all manner of reasons from investigating suspected smuggled goods and unlicensed gambling to checking the height of hedges and for the existence of unregulated hypnotists. The non-payment of a parking ticket is treated as a civil debt and could result a bailiff entering a property to enforce it.

Just as with the surveillance question, many might argue that if they have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear. But as in the case of the un-paid parking ticket, errors are not uncommon and the potential for abuse is not unknown. The minimal authorisation required could also encourage action on insecure assertions.

It may still be an unlikely scenario for any upstanding citizen but the potential threat is there and as such can still generate considerable unease.

What’s more, whether any powers of entry are ever acted upon or not, many householders would just strongly object to the mere idea that a state official would be legally allowed to gain access to their property without warning.

This is seen as an invasion of privacy and an erosion of rights and liberties that householders have been unable to protect themselves from.

Restoring the Sanctity of Home

It is left to politicians to restore the sanctity of a citizen’s home. Efforts are underway to ensure that the private domain can only be breached with the householder’s permission, or at least with some proper legal authority.

One Conservative peer called for a code of practice to enforce strict limits on entry powers for all cases apart from those involving suspected serious crime or terrorism – essentially cases that are punishable by imprisonment or on the grounds of public safety.

The limits would mean that entry would only be allowed if authorised by a judge or magistrate and if the householder agreed. It has also been proposed that entry is only allowed between the hours of 8am and 6pm midweek and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. By making a warrant necessary for all entries into domestic premises then it would make officials think twice before making an application.