A guest post by former Big Brother Watch director, Alex Deane.
Longstanding BBW supporters may remember that I was once Director of this parish. For the past two years, I’ve been a Common Councilman in the City of London, aka the Square Mile. These two things crossed over significantly this week, with the news (broken by Quartz) that a company named Renew, which had installed bins in the Square Mile, was using a data collection capacity installed in those bins to collect information about mobile telephone usage amongst passers-by.
Let’s lance one canard right now: I don’t care what they were using this data for, or intending to use it for. You’ve got no right to snatch data from the airwaves like this, no matter what your ostensible motive and no matter how innocent your alleged plans. This behaviour is wrong in and of itself and it is a good thing that this case has resulted in controversy for those carrying it out and attention for the issue; all the better as it has happened early in the development of this technology – or at least, this latest iteration of it.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP has announced that new legislation will be introduced this year which will scrap hefty fines for putting a bin out on the wrong day. Talking to the BBC Sunday Politics Pickles promised: ’Fines for putting a bin out on the wrong day would be scrapped. If you put the wrong yoghurt pot into the wrong bin, it is ludicrous to fine people.’
This is an issue that we have been keeping an eye on for several years. Lifting The Lid highlighted that 68 local authorities had been secretly putting microchips in residents’ bins. The research revealed that at least 2.6 million households have had their bins microchiped. Eric Pickles is absolutely right to take action to abolish these powers and to try to bring some sanity to the way councils seemingly view themselves as a police force free to pass absurd rules and dole out fines on a whim. Read more
Eric Pickles may not have the most glamorous job in Westminster, but he has delivered an early Christmas present for civil liberties campaigners.
The last Labour Government changed the law to give local authorities powers, originally intended for the Environment Agency to tackle serious fly-tipping, to go through people’s bins. Now the Secretary of State for Local Government has announced that no longer will council inspectors have the right to enter your property and rifle through your bin.
This power of entry, along with a few others (including the suspicion of unregulated hypnotists and the sale of German property) were scrapped as part of the Protection of Freedoms Act.
Thanks to the Big Brother Watch supporter who highlighted his local council’s latest toy – the shouting lamppost.
Shepway District Council installed the device to tackle fly-tipping by a set of industrial bins. Unlike a normal CCTV camera, the system takes the photo of every person who walks near the bins, and plays a loud message warning you not to fly tip and announcing that it is taking your picture.
Given that you don’t need to be in immediate physical proximity to the bins to trigger the system, the likelyhood is that photographs are being taken – and stored – of people who have committed no offence, other than using a public right of way.
It has emerged that David Cameron’s Cabinet Office Minister has been casually dropping papers in litter bins around St. James’s Park nearby Number 10. Photographed on his mobile phone and shuffling through papers, Letwin is shown to dispose of documents in the bins on at least 5 occasions. The documents, partly torn up before being dumped, consisted of emails, memos, letters and papers – some of which contained constituents’ personal details.
A spokesperson for Mr. Lewtin stated that the documents were “not of a sensitive nature,” and that the minister sometimes disposes of copies of letters while walking to work in the morning.
As it is Government policy to shred documents rather than just placing them in the bin, we sincerely hope that he hasn’t breached basic security protocol by tossing these papers in the rubbish in a public park. It is unclear whether the information Mr. Letwin disposed of actually was of a secure nature, however we are very disappointed with the lackadaisical treatment of constituents’ personal details.