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Councils Recruit Unpaid Volunteers To Spy On Their Neighbors 521

Several readers have written to tell us that a recent move in the UK has councils relying on info from "Citizen Snoopers" to report the transgressions of their neighbors. Currently only implemented as "environment volunteers" designed to keep watch on things like litter, dog habits, and improper trash sorting, there is a certain amount of trepidation that this could grow into something more sinister. "It will fuel fears that Britain is lurching towards a Big Brother society, following the revelation this week that the Home Office is extending some police powers to council staff and private security guards. Critics said the latest scheme could easily be abused and encourage a culture of bin spies and curtain twitchers. Matthew Elliott, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: 'Snooping on your neighbors to report recycling infringements sounds like something straight out of the East German Stasi's copybook.'"
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Councils Recruit Unpaid Volunteers To Spy On Their Neighbors

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  • Whats so special? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dnoyeb ( 547705 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @09:50AM (#24829967) Homepage Journal

    Here in Michigan we also do this. If your neighbor wont cut his grass in a timely manner there is usually a municipal number you can call. The city agents will come out and issue a fine. This applies to more than grass though. Animals, noise, etc. If there it is a "private" neighborhood then you can have other things written into the charter or whatever its called for that area.

    Its really only concerned with property related things though. If you see your neighbor growing pot plants, you'd have to find another number to call...

  • Switzerland (Score:3, Informative)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:06AM (#24830121)

    I have a friend who lives in Switzerland who says that getting reported to the authorities by your neighbours for petty rule violations is a fairly common occurrence there.

  • Re:already happening (Score:3, Informative)

    by badfish99 ( 826052 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:09AM (#24830151)

    If you drove the car to your road without tax or insurance, that was already illegal. You should have arranged tax and insurance before buying it. Insurance companies will fax documents to you if you are in a hurry, or else an insurance broker could issue a cover note on the spot.
    If you still have not taxed your car after a few weeks, perhaps you are not really trying?

  • Get off YOUR lawn (Score:4, Informative)

    by stupidflanders ( 1230894 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:21AM (#24830267)
    These are usually local ordinances. They are fairly rare as whole cities go, but if you live in a community with a "Homeowners Association" then they can have all sorts of crazy "laws" []. Junk vehicles in your driveway, bushes are too high, need to rake leaves, children are ugly, daughter is a floozy, etc. More often than not, the elderly are in charge of the Homeowner's Association, and spend their days looking through binoculars to see if that no-good 30-something couple's dog is making on their lawn again... and they didn't pick it up!

    Welcome to The 'Burb's [].
  • In Germany as well (Score:2, Informative)

    by JackassJedi ( 1263412 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:25AM (#24830307)
    I know that in Germany (living here, have heard it from people dealing with government official agencies) a comparable system is being deployed as well. People are being hired to check for "incongruities" in the neighboorhood; to what full extent i don't know, but i do know that it encompasses the first listed things as well, like checking for litter, unsafe locations, etc.

    Doesn't sound very good to me.
  • by Whatever Fits ( 262060 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:43AM (#24830485) Homepage Journal

    Here we call it Home Owner's Associations. They have the legal right to lien your house if you don't cut your lawn. In my experience, the "police" for these groups are bored, older, retired people who volunteer to spy on their neighbors, their neighbor's neighbors, etc. Did I mention they were bored?

  • by mollymoo ( 202721 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:49AM (#24830549) Journal
    Commuity Support Officers make me feel no safer, because they have no powers and using resources for them means less resources for actual Police. They do fuck all. Well, except stand by and watch kids drown [].
  • Re:Switzerland (Score:2, Informative)

    by badfish99 ( 826052 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:53AM (#24830591)
    I knew someone who used to live in Poland, who said that getting reported to the authorities by your neighbours was once fairly common there too. One day someone reported him and his wife and children. He managed to escape but the rest of his family sadly did not.
  • by camelrider ( 46141 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:57AM (#24830621)

    Reaction to the same activity in Budapest was a major tipping point in the uprising of the late 1950's.

    While it became an anti-USSR movement the initial disorder was the sometimes violent reaction to local block monitors by fed-up citizens, according to some of my friends who were there.

  • Re:already happening (Score:2, Informative)

    by DaveGod ( 703167 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:57AM (#24830625)

    D'oh. All you needed to do was phone up your insurance, then phone up the DVLA. They'll check for the insurance (it's all electronic, no need to wait by the post) and give you a code to display in lieu of the disk. The code normally runs out after a week or two.

    Any problems with that and you need to put it in someone's drive, and if it's going to take long do a SORN.

    It's worth some dilligence when buying a car. Phone up the insurance company, both to check prices and to get them to determine if it's been written off (they do not bother until you ask or there is a claim!). This isn't just for your safety; insurance does not pay out for a car that any insurance company has written off. You can also check the DVLA's vehicle enquiry page [].

    I sympathise with your position, and cannot fathom why the DVLA do not put the above solution in their FAQ, but it should be obvious to anyone that motoring is a cash cow for the UK gov't and they milk every drop.

  • Switzerland (Score:4, Informative)

    by carvalhao ( 774969 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:01AM (#24830671) Journal
    This is already common practice in Switzerland, where your neighbor will turn you in for not having you car's road tax updated even though you don't drive and your car is parked in the common building garage or you have the crazy idea of flushing the toilet after 22 h. Yes, both are actual examples...
  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:02AM (#24830683)
    In the UK, bongs are sold openly, on big shelves saying 'BONGS FOR SALE' with pictures of marijuana leaves next to them, in high street shops.
  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:03AM (#24830691)

    "I've never understood the objections to that kind of thing. How the hell are the council supposed to do their job if they can't do something as trivial as check to see if what they say is true? Should they simply believe everything they are told?"

    There are many ways that people can prove where they live without spying being a necessity. For something as trivial as a school place a utility bill, bank statement, tenancy contract etc etc should suffice.

    "We're not talking about bugging people's homes or rifling though their possessions while they're out - it's watching someone in public, on the street."

    Not in all cases it's not, there have been cases where the camera have been used to look into people's houses. Even so I don't like that people with no special powers or training at the council can track individuals' movements over something so trivial.

    Yes, I can be seen in public by anyone. OTOH, tracking me is considered stalking when anyone else does it.

  • by Fast Thick Pants ( 1081517 ) <> on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:10AM (#24830759)

    It's a scene from 1984 []: Winston's trying to pry stories about pre-Ingsoc England from an old drunk in a pub:

    Calls 'isself a barman and don't know what a pint is! Why, a pint's the 'alf of a quart, and there's four quarts to the gallon. 'Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.'

    'Never heard of 'em,' said the barman shortly. 'Litre and half litre -- that's all we serve. [...]

    'E could 'a drawed me off a pint,' grumbled the old man as he settled down behind a glass. 'A 'alf litre ain't enough. It don't satisfy. And a 'ole litre's too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price.'

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:13AM (#24830783)

    It's good that you are trying to add some info to the survey, while perhaps making a point, but unfortunately the way surveys work is that the data is inputted into a database. This means that extra or unsupported data is not collected. Your comment was discarded. Sorry.

  • Re:Whats so special? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:31AM (#24830987)

    Well I was saying that laws LIKE that would never exist here. Not that exact law.

    But since you mentioned it, there is plenty of snow in Australia in the mountains. Snowdepths only 50 miles away or so from where I am are over 6 feet (it's the end of winter here ATM).

    Not all Australians live in the tropics/on the beach ;)

  • Re:Whats so special? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:34AM (#24831031)

    Sigh...I'm aware of the nature of snow. Why does everyone think snow doesn't exist here? (Not to mention that I spend plenty of time in the US and Europe where it snows too).

    In Australia, snow clearing would be the responsibility of the city authorities. Your property boundary ends at 2 metres from the side of the road here. The sidewalk is public land and would be thus maintained/cleared by local government. Whereas in some countries, I believe your property includes the sidewalk. So it makes sense that you would have to clear it yourself then.

  • Re:Get off YOUR lawn (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:40AM (#24831113) Homepage

    Yup and I love defiling the stupid ordinances. I have a 50 foot tower where it's deemed "not allowed" the asshole neighbors and Association tried to sue me, the federal government told my neighbors to pound sand while I flipped them the bird. Being a ham radio operator has it's advantages.

    My next trick is to install a Satellite dish I look forward to pissing everyone off on that one as well as painting my home a color they do not agree upon.

    The problem is the good rules are always surrounded by a bunch of really stupid rules that can not be enforced and are there only in the hopes that anyone challenging them will roll over and play dead.

    P.S. I also break the "no motorcycles rule. I own one and drive it. It's a sane bike with a quiet exhaust and not a "moron hog" that has 120db of thwap thwap thwap loud exhaust. I'm going to fight and win that fight when it comes up as well.

    when you fight rules, you got to fight by their rules and use their ways against them. In Michigan it's illegal to ban a certain type of vehicle if there is no technical reason to (heavy trucks vs thin pavement... huge pickups vs low ceiling in parking garage, etc....) So the association members will be pissed on yet again by me.... little ol' trouble maker.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:43AM (#24831145)

    Well, "twitchers" are bird watching hobbyists.

    However "curtain twitchers" are people that watch what their neighbours are doing. The term comes about because you know you're being watched when you turn around and see their curtain moving where they've seen you turning around to look in their direction and let it fall back in place to hide themselves.

    Basically people with nothing better to do but gossip and watch other people to make sure they're behaving properly (and provide ammunition for further gossiping). Usually old people, watching out of a gap in the curtains.

  • by psychodelicacy ( 1170611 ) * <> on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:51AM (#24831229)
    I utterly agree with you. And now councils are also hoping for people to report their neighbours if they put out the wrong type of rubbish. I'm all for recycling, but when councils can fine someone 200GBP [] for mistakenly putting a piece of paper in with their metal cans, it's a big problem. My landlords have already reprimanded me for putting out "too much rubbish" (there was an issue with the temperature in my fridge, and a lot of gone-off food had to go), because they worry that the council will fine them for it. This is just a way for hard-up councils to make money with pernickety little rules that are prohibitively difficult to follow. And they're going through people's trash in order to do it - and, yes, that would be stalking in any other circumstances.
  • Re:Whats so special? (Score:4, Informative)

    by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:17PM (#24831579) Homepage

    Ron Paul did.

    The Libertarian party in the US runs on a platform of "states rights" these days, rather than true small government. Their primary concern is downsizing the federal government, and giving more power to the states.

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:25PM (#24831687)

    Well, except stand by and watch kids drown [].

    Except they didn't stand by and watch him drown, and a lot of newspapers printed apologies for saying they had. When they arrived they couldn't see the boy ( [], []). So: jump in and swim where exactly, if they can't see where he is?

    Of course, "CSPO's are rubbish" makes for better sensationalism than "CSPO's do just the right thing", so you can be forgiven for missing the reporting of the fact that the original story was bogus.

  • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:52PM (#24832071)

    > They've already given us the Community Support Officer (the plastic police) which is effectively a policeman with limited powers - and crucially a
    > lower salary ..and no fucking clue. Check out this useless prick: []

    A foreigner with no apparent knowledge of UK laws but wearing a uniform, assaulting a UK citizen and then accusing HIM of assault, while falsely stating that you can't take photographs in Oxford Street (London's main shopping area, which is NOT subject to any photography restrictions whatsoever).

    Welcome to the future of law enforcement in the UK. Ignorant people who cannot join the police, wearing uniforms and taking out their inferiority complexes on people going about their lawful business.

  • Surveys (Score:5, Informative)

    by Arker ( 91948 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:56PM (#24832133) Homepage

    It's good that you are trying to add some info to the survey, while perhaps making a point, but unfortunately the way surveys work is that the data is inputted into a database. This means that extra or unsupported data is not collected. Your comment was discarded. Sorry.

    Not necessarily true. A proper study design will *always* allow for this sort of input. At the very least, someone will collate any such write-ins that they get and account for them. Afterwards there's a chance that the analysts may then go ahead and decide that it's noise and disregard it, but they can only do that AFTER tallying up this and any other write-ins. IF they get a significant number of write-in answers, particularly a significant number with the same or very similar answer, the database will have to be altered to account for them, and in the report it will have to be noted that there was this unexpected response, which was statistically significant, and which might likely have been even more significant had it not required a write-in to record. The next iteration of the survey should then have that response available without a write-in.

    This is the proper way to do it. I'm not saying there arent fly-by-night survey outfits that cut corners, and I'm not saying it's impossible that some of them cut this particular corner - but to do otherwise is disreputable and scientifically unsound.

  • Re:1984 (Score:3, Informative)

    by toomanyairmiles ( 838715 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @01:16PM (#24832313)
    It's pretty bad in many places, my home town, along with about twenty others has CCTV cameras with speakers [] on them. They are used to disperse crowds and complain about littering or all manner of other things. The curious thing is, despite the heavy coverage they have done nothing to prevent numerous assaults, rapes or other violent incidents and quite often fail to produce useful evidence - which was the main argument for their introduction.
  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @01:47PM (#24832771)

    Pulled the corpse out, probably because it floated to the surface once he stopped struggling.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @02:27PM (#24833221)

    In the UK most people earning a professional wage have some sort of top-up healthcare. This is often provided by their employer or it can be bought by individuals. Usually it covers spouses and children. This provides guarantees of care within a very short time period and can provide things the NHS won't, like private rooms and more time with consultants. Companies like it because it means people get back to work faster and people like it because it gives them stuff like private rooms.

    I would suspect most MPs have this for themselves and their families, much like many (most?) of the supposedly left-wing Labour Party send their kids to private schools.

    Well, in British parlance they send them to public schools (private institutions), not state schools (publicly funded).

    Private medicine is not illegal in the UK, it's a well established system.

!07/11 PDP a ni deppart m'I !pleH