HAMPSHIRE police are snooping on phone calls and emails 24 times every day, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The surveillance watchdog has raised the alarm over forces using powers to tap into communications data too often, warning privacy may be at risk.

It has launched an inquiry into whether there should be stricter curbs on the police and other law enforcement bodies – to ensure snooping is not an “automatic resort”.

Hampshire is among the forces using the powers frequently, a report to Parliament reveals, on a total of 8,818 occasions in 2013.

That works out as 735 times every month, across the district – almost 170 times every week.

Authorisation is granted to uncover the “who, when and where” of a communication, such as who owns the phone, or email address, or computer IP address.

Police also learn who that person was in contact with electronically – but not what was said in the communication.

Southampton City Council is also using snooping powers more often than most local authorities – 81 times last year, the third highest of any council.

Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, said public bodies had secured a total of 514,608 requests for communications data, last year.

His report concluded: “It seems to me to be a very large number. It has the feel of being too many.

“I have accordingly asked our inspectors to take a critical look at the constituents of this bulk to see if there might be a significant institutional over-use.”

But Detective Chief Superintendent Sara Glen, Hampshire’s head of CID, said: “These tactics are not used lightly and their use has to be clearly justified, and authority sought at a senior level in the pursuit of detection or prevention of serious criminality.

“These powers are carefully used and moderated, each case assessed on its own individual merit.”

Nationwide, most communications were tapped into to “prevent or detect crime, or prevent disorder”, followed by “emergency, to prevent death or injury”.

Southampton City Council said it was unable to comment on its use of the powers because its specialist legal officers were unavailable.

The annual report also revealed that Hampshire County Council tapped into data 12 times and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service twice – the only fire authority to do so.