Town hall snoopers used controversial anti-terror powers to delve into the phone and email records of thousands of people last year.
They wanted to check for evidence of dog smuggling and storing petrol without permission - and even to trace a suspected bogus faith healer.
In one case they were inquiring into unburied animal carcasses.
Some councils are allowing middle-ranking staff to authorise covert operations under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which is intended for use 'in the interests of national security'.
Many of those spied upon will have no idea they have been subjected to surveillance, as those who are innocent have no right to know.
Last night Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: 'This is a stark demonstration of how the surveillance society has got out of control with the improper use of very broad powers - powers that the pub
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