At the beginning of this month the following article appeared in the Sunday Times:
Council officials are mounting surveillance operations for the first time to catch householders who put out their rubbish on the wrong day. Southend council in Essex is pioneering a project called Rubbish Watch, deploying cameras that can be moved from street to street where householders are suspected of breaking rules on rubbish collection.
The scheme reflects a growing tendency among councils to conduct surveillance operations to catch people breaking environmental laws or who are engaged in antisocial behaviour. A report from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, which oversees covert surveillance operations by councils, law enforcement agencies and government departments, shows the number of such operations has nearly doubled in the last year from 6,924 to 12,494.
Some local authorities have been so enthusiastic that they have even asked police if they could buy "tracking" devices, when in fact they are prohibited from using them.
Under the scheme in Southend, three "Dome Hawk" cameras, which each have a range of more than half a mile, are moved around the town and discreetly attached to lampposts. Residents who are spotted putting their rubbish out on the wrong day face warnings or even fines.
One of the residents who helped develop the council project, Trevor Bell, 62, said that if residents realised they were under surveillance, it would encourage more responsible behaviour. "The camera makes people aware that they are being watched and can't get away with just dumping their rubbish whenever they feel like it," he said. "If rubbish is left on the streets, not only is it an eyesore but it is a health hazard. Rats and foxes will rip into the bags and we end up with litter and waste scattered across the streets."
However, other residents believe the Rubbish Watch initiative is unnecessarily intrusive. Kimberly Adams, 37, a secondary school teacher, said: "I didn't know the cameras were there and I am very surprised. The council haven't even made us aware that we can be fined for putting our rubbish out early. There are a lot of rights infringed on in this country but this is a step too far. I don't think the council spends money on anything important. I'm sure they must have better things to do than sit there and monitor video tapes of people putting out rubbish."
Ian Robertson, the councillor responsible for waste management in Southend, said: "This isn't about giving out fines, but ensuring we change the culture. If you've got nothing to hide, there's nothing to worry about."
Southend council said last week it did not consider its use of mobile cameras was covert surveillance because residents were warned they could be filmed. A council spokesman said: "Rubbish Watch has been a real success story in Southend with evidence of a positive change in street-scene appearance and the attitude of residents."
Other councils say they are using surveillance operations against fly-tippers, but say householders would only be targeted if they used unlicensed collectors who subsequently dumped the rubbish.
One reason councils are increasing the use of surveillance is to get firm evidence of alleged wrongdoing. Last year, the first person to be prosecuted for failing to recycle household rubbish, Donna Challice, a 31-year-old mother-of-three from Exeter, was cleared after magistrates concluded there was insufficient evidence. After the case, Mike Trim, the Exeter City Council recycling officer, said: "We will have to look at the implications for us and other local authorities. It will be hard to bring cases like this if there has to be direct evidence of an individual contaminating a recycling bin."
While councils are eager to crack down on breaches of tougher environmental laws, there are increasing concerns among civil liberties groups over what they see as intrusive or draconian measures. One example emerged last week when it was revealed that police may be given powers to take DNA samples from all suspects, even those questioned for relatively minor misdemeanours such as dropping litter.
Ludicrous as this case is, if you read the report carefully there are several very sinister indications of the way things may go in future. Firstly there is the quote from Councillor Ian "Sad Cliché" Robertson: "If you've got nothing to hide, there's nothing to worry about." It's almost horrifying that someone in a position of authority can still be naïve enough to use this expression. Probably the last people to take it at face value were Jewish families in pre-war Germany - and no, we don't think it's over the top to bring them into it. "If you've nothing to hide you've nothing to worry about" is the catch-phrase of the dictator, the oppressor and the inquisitor, and it's also the mistaken refuge of their short-sighted, unimaginative victims. Twentieth Century history teaches us that it's those who have nothing to hide who need to worry the most. Those that do have something to hide usually have the sense to keep their noses clean while the rest of us rush headlong into the trap.
The second sinister indication is the phrase "householders would only be targeted if they used unlicensed collectors". Pause for thought here: what does this mean? That if you attempt to get rid of your rubbish by any other means than their own refuse lorries, they'll turn the cameras on you? Is this the beginning of a local authority war on private refuse firms like the one which has just started operating in Yorkshire? For £90 a year, they'll do what your council won't - empty your bin once a week. What's more, they have to pay VAT while the council refuse department don't.
Not being stupid we note, of course, the rider "collectors who subsequently dumped the rubbish". But once you've paid someone to take your rubbish away, what they do with it is their responsibility. If they fly-tip, that's not your fault. It's rather like prosecuting a motorist if they leave the car at the local garage and the mechanic goes joy-riding in it.
Then there's the local council complaining that "it will be hard to bring cases like this if there has to be direct evidence of an individual contaminating a recycling bin" in the case of the woman who was cleared of failing to recycle. Exactly what did the council expect? Do they really think they're above the law, and that householders should be convicted on their say-so without evidence?
Silly question, GOS, how can you be so stupid? Of course they do. They're the council. They know best.
Did you notice the quote that said "If rubbish is left on the streets, not only is it an eyesore but it is a health hazard. Rats and foxes will rip into the bags and we end up with litter and waste scattered across the streets"? That's an interesting point of view. How come when we protest about fortnightly collections they tell us there's no health hazard? How come there's no risk leaving rubbish on our own properties for 2 weeks, but there is if you leave it on council property for just a day or so? These bl**dy people just make it up as they go along. Never mind the facts, never mind the truth, just say the first thing that comes into your head. B*st*rds.
And lastly, there's the news that police may be given powers to take DNA samples from all suspects, even those questioned for relatively minor misdemeanours such as dropping litter. These people really are determined to get every man jack of us on their bl**dy database, aren't they, one way or another? Never mind our objections - and most of us do object - they aren't going to stop until every one of us is catalogued, listed, inspected, monitored, licensed, measured and neatly categorised.
Still, if we've nothing to hide, I suppose we've nothing to worry about.
The GOS says: My thanks to A**** L***** for some material on this page.
Just been listening to Radio 2 (yes, it's true. It really does rot your brain), and heard the story of Mr.Pratt who was cautioned by a "shopping centre warden" in Peterborough because he was wearing a t-shirt that said "Don't piss me off, I'm running out of room to hide the bodies".
Never mind how ridiculous that is, the really disturbing thing was the response of the listeners who phoned and emailed. There really was one person interviewed who applauded the warden because "little girls do get taken away and abused".
I think I'm losing the will to live.
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