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UK Privacy Group Says Gov’t Spying Through Trash Bins
Posted on: Saturday, 6 March 2010, 10:10 CST
A pro-privacy group in the United Kingdom is warning citizens that the government has placed microchips in trash receptacles to monitor how much trash people throw away, claiming it's an attempt to fine those who toss too much.
According to the advocacy group Big Brother Watch, as many as 2.6 million chips have been outfitted onto household trash bins by many local government councils. The group discovered the program through a series of Freedom of Information requests, although it appeared the devices were not yet activated.
Supporters say the microchips are being used to push for better recycling measures from its citizens, but opponents are none too happy.
“They should mind their own business,” said Terry Williams, an unemployed Londoner who thinks the government is meddling. “I believe they have gone too far. It's not like we are throwing away anything that is illegal.”
The microchips are now part of the British information grid, which relies heavily on closed-circuit television to monitor the population, especially on the crowded public transportation system.
“This is yet another piece of surveillance that the councils are taking on in our daily life,” said Dylan Sharpe, campaign manager for the advocacy group. “With this information they can tell if we are home or not, and the information is stored on their database, which is not that secure.”
Still, Sharpe says that the councils are most likely planning to charge those who have too much waste, and thus will cause many large families that generate more waste then smaller families to burn or illegally dump their refuse to avoid fines.
However, Gary Hopkins, a councilor in Bristol, said the microchips are being used as part of an innovative campaign to reward people who reduce waste, and not part of a secret scheme to charge those who produce too much waste. The plan is to encourage people to participate in recycling, he said. “It's voluntary, not compulsory.”
Microchips were first implanted on trash bins eight years ago, and the debate over whether the government has the right to spy on the waste habits of its citizens have came to light often since then.
In 2006, then-British environment minister Ben Bradshaw said that citizens might someday have to pay for the amount of trash they throw out, arguing that the practice would encourage people to waste less, helping reduce strains put on landfills. Since then, bans have been lifted that prevented local officials from offering incentives for recycling.
The exact purpose of the chips vary depending on the area. Some of the chips are intended to sense if a garbage bin is full or empty, while others are used to track the whereabouts of the bin itself.
Government officials say none of the chips are used to charge residents for throwing out too much trash. But many people believe the microchips are part of a secret plan to increase refuse fees and fines.
This is just another chapter in the government’s determined information-gathering plan. Security officials working on antiterrorism measures have pushed for greater powers in tracking emails, text messages, and phone calls made in the U.K. The country already has the largest DNA database in the world, per capita.
Other initiatives have also been designed to incorporate laws to regulate troublesome social behavior. In January, the government banned some drinking games and bar promotions in an attempt to cut back on binge drinking. A government-funded plan is also in the works to make shatter-proof beer mugs to prevent drunken bar-goers to smash them and use shards as weapons.
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