CLAIMS that a new council drone will be used to “expand state surveillance” have been dismissed by North Yorkshire County Council.

The local authority said it has invested nearly £2,000 in a drone to enable it to harness technology and work more efficiently in the face of radically reduced funding.

Campaign group Big Brother Watch called for guidelines to be drawn up to ensure drones were not used to spy on taxpayers without “good reason”.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “There’s a real risk that drones could be used by councils to expand the surveillance state.”

“There should be clear safeguards in place to make sure authorities make the best of new technologies without having free licence to snoop on the public in the absence of good reason.”

The council’s leader, Cllr Carl Les, said the drone would be used to support a wide range of council services, such as an aerial survey of traffic congestion for its highways division.

Other uses of the drone could include inspections by the authority’s trading standards officers of roofing work, looking for breaches of the limited number of planning functions that the council has or to boost health and safety.

Cllr Les said suggestions in a national newspaper that the council would spy on home extensions to see if they were larger than planned were incorrect as it was not responsible for such matters.

He said: “It is simply a useful piece of equipment that has a camera attached to it.”

“Surveillance has its role in checking what people have said they are going to do, but we haven’t bought a drone to snoop, it’s another tool.

“We have little planning enforcement to do and it certainly can’t be used for snooping. We are governed by the same legislation as the police and other public bodies. If we wanted to snoop we would have to get permission from a senior person and we would have to pass a number of checks.”

The concerns over drones have been raised after some local authorities in the region, including Hambleton District Council, revealed they were using covert CCTV to tackle fly-tipping.