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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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  • by apathy maybe ( 922212 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @09:50AM (#24829969) Homepage Journal

    Like fuck it won't.

    I don't like my neighbour, the dog. Yup, the neighbour didn't clean up after their dog.

    Yes, they are not sorting their recycling.

    This sort of shit moves society away from an open society to a society of fear. I would have thought that getting people to work together and trust each other (and deserve that trust) would be much better then getting them to mistrust and fear their neighbours.

    Same sort of shit where doctors for children and podiatrists are mistaken for "paedophiles".

  • by dattaway ( 3088 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @09:52AM (#24829995) Homepage Journal

    Don't worry. I have a drug house in front of mine. That means we get a lot of vandalism, theft, noise, car crashes, and a loss of sleep at night. So I bought a top of the line camera ($2500) to catch the action and turn it into the police. They like the pretty pictures of the drugs and cash trading hands, but after a few months, the drug house is still going strong: []

    Here's the Axis network webcam for you to play with (you'll quickly find out I'm in the USA where bandwidth SUCKS!) []

  • Re:Unpaid volunteers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by apathy maybe ( 922212 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @09:53AM (#24830017) Homepage Journal

    No. In many cases volunteers are paid expenses and, perhaps, a small stipend. (Depending on the organisation, job, etc.)

    Not to mention, if you're in a volunteer army, presumably you are being paid (just don't volunteer for anything else, you'll get paid the same rate, and you'll face more danger).

  • already happening (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oliverthered ( 187439 ) <oliverthered&hotmail,com> on Monday September 01, 2008 @09:58AM (#24830059) Journal

    I purchased a car a few months ago.
    It didn't have any tax when I got it.
    I had it parked on the side of the road for 2 days whilst I was waiting for my insurance documents to come through so that I can get tax (it's impossible to get tax without insurance).
    I was in a catch 22 situation, it was impossible for me to get tax.
    Anyhow, one of my neighbours dutifully phoned up the DVLA (a government agency) who promptly clamped my car and gave me a £200 fine which I payed promptly.
    A few weeks later I received another letter from the DVLA this time threatening to fine me £83 for not licensing my vehicle or they were going to take me to court.

    I'm going to go to court as I hope that the judge will see that they put me in an impossible situation (but I expect I'll probably end up having to pay an even larger fine)

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:14AM (#24830189)

    Face it, our society is broken. (I'm British).

    The place is full of busybodies and curtain twitchers, people who think they know best, the "think of the children" pro-censorship crowd, the people who fully support the government's creeping "terror" legislation (yes they exist, in droves. Only bad people fall under suspicion, remember?), reactionary anti-europeans and nationalists (I agree the EU has problems, but the "they'll never take our pound!" crowd piss me off)...

    That's coupled with a government who run the country by knee-jerk and grant themselves ever more power, money and manpower, bring in badly defined bans (extreme porn anyone?) and seem to get off on stripping us of rights.

    The law is out of touch with reality and with society; though if it actually reflected the people we'd all be in trouble too, hanging would be back in a week. OTOH if the law was actually sensible and the government stopped their weekly crackdowns on freedom then more people might start to respect it and not just break the law and disregard everyone else. Currently the attitude seems to be "Everything's iullegal, so I'll just do what the hell I like when I think I have a chance not to be caught".

    No politician has the balls to do what needs to be done though (legalise drugs, review speed limits, take away hundreds of little pieces of legislated social engineering, castrate and massively cull the public sector), so IMHO we're fucked.

    Frankly I'm getting the hell out of here.

  • by Ganty ( 1223066 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:15AM (#24830201)

    This rubbish is the sort of thing that made me leave the UK eight years ago. Right now I'm a couple of thousand miles away and I couldn't be happier.


  • by Z-MaxX ( 712880 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:15AM (#24830203) Journal

    My parents recently returned from a trip that included visiting Croatia and Serbia. One of the things that touched them the most was the tall, gray, nondescript cement block apartment buildings that stretched for miles and miles, built by the fascist communist government. In these dreary buildings, the interior walls were intentionally built thinner than usual. It was not only for cost reasons, however... it is said that over 50% of people eavesdropped on and informed on their neighbors to the communist government, and the paper-thin walls made it so that people had to constantly whisper for fear of being overheard.

  • by Sebilrazen ( 870600 ) <> on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:17AM (#24830209)

    perhaps i should be proactive and kill/attack anyone who comes near me or my property, just to be safe of course

    does the gov think its a healthy thing to encouraging that you to trust nobody ?

    That's the way it is in Texas [].

  • Re:Whats so special? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:24AM (#24830291)

    Actually, the US does seem to have a much stronger sense of 'keep your local suburb/community respectable looking' than other countries I've lived in. (Lived in Australia, US, UK and Japan for various periods in my life)

    I'm Australian by birth and the lawns here (Canberra) are mostly awful. Full of weeds, some are never mowed, most are dying because of the drought anyway.

    In the US though (or at least in suburban Wisconsin and Illinois where I have been), everyone's lawn is immaculate. It's sorta freaky actually ... house after house of perfectly cut, beautifully lush green grass. First time I went there I actually said "omg, I thought it only looked like this in movies - it's actually like this??".

    Whereas in Australia you can guarantee every 3rd or so house is a complete dump, old rusting cars parked out the front and piles of weeds and dirt.

    This responsibility to your community extends into winter. I was interested to learn that homeowners have a ~legal obligation~ to clear snow from the sidewalk in front of their house within x hours of a snowfall, in the US. That kind of law would never, ever exist in Australia. Half of us just don't care about our yard or what it looks like.

    But interestingly, in every other respect though, Australia is WAY more regulated than the US. Americans just love their lawns, I guess (and they have the climate to support growing a great one).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:27AM (#24830321)
    I'm from Romania and I remember the way it was before the 1989 revolution, during the communism years. The biggest differences are that the people that would spy on you were getting paid for that and you'd get burned if anyone heard you say anything about the regime. FTFA, criticizing the current regime won't get your ass in jail and these people aren't getting paid to spy on you; other than that it's just the way it was pre-1989 Romania. - Anonymous Coward for a good reason.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:31AM (#24830351)

    two words from the beautiful german language:

    "Blockwart", a low ranking official in the german nazi party whos job was to be a link (read: spy on and report to) between the neighborhood and the party/ secret police.

    "AbschnittsbevollmÃchtigter", the eastern german continuation of a fellow totalitarian tradition, namely the "Blockwart".

  • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:36AM (#24830421)

    it is said that over 50% of people eavesdropped on and informed on their neighbors to the communist government, and the paper-thin walls made it so that people had to constantly whisper for fear of being overheard.

    My parents were from that generation. Despite the fact that they had moved to a new continent and that Tito was long dead, politics, even American politics, was always discussed in hushed tones. And then, never over the telephone.

  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Monday September 01, 2008 @10:40AM (#24830459) Homepage

    "It's for the greater good." Did none of these idiots see "Hot Fuzz"??? Sheesh!

  • by Paradigm_Complex ( 968558 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:01AM (#24830673)

    In an ideally policed state, there would be sufficient police employed to witness or prevent every deliberate crime but this is impractical.

    I disagree. In an ideally police state, there will not be a huge need for police. Fear will keep people in their place. The fear of knowing your neighbor is right next door nigh 24/7, for example.

    The main thing about this that keeps it from being overly fascist is the lack of punishment for failing to report on your neighbor. This is only a little bit fascist.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:19AM (#24830861)
    They might visit you for that. The police are good at fishing out easy convictions; they often go after 'chavs' and intimidate them until they either strike the officer or try to resist arrest - because both of those things will get put through a magistrates court in about 30 seconds - whereas many more serious crimes like domestic assaults are very difficult to get a conviction out of because the victim usually retracts the accusation. Having worked for the police doing paperwork, I got really fucked off with the phrase 'hes OK when he isnt drinking/smoking crack'...
  • by DrSkwid ( 118965 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @11:37AM (#24831073) Homepage Journal

    The CCTV camera outside my house is 1 mile from the nearest pub and 4 miles from the city centre, it is also outside of the city boundary. It covers three 400m stretches of road, one of which is a cul-de-sac. I would post the google earth but I've said too many things here I might get a punch in the snizz

  • Re:Big Brother (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:07PM (#24831461) Journal
    I had my next-door neighbour report me for that a couple of years ago. There is a council bylaw here that means you aren't allowed to leave rubbish on the street outside more than a day before collection, but she was complaining that there was rubbish in my back-garden (left there by the inhabitants of the flat below me), which is not illegal. I got a form letter from the council reminding me that it was illegal to leave the rubbish on the street. Slightly ironically, if this law hadn't existed then the downstairs people would have left the rubbish on the street when they moved out and not in the back garden, and it would have been collected within a week.

    I hadn't noticed the rubbish, because it was piled up around a corner (next to the wall to her garden), and moved it as soon as I did. I would have moved it a week earlier if she'd told me, rather than the council, that it was a problem. Unfortunately, this is a very British habit - complain to anyone except the person who can actually fix the problem.

  • Re:Whats so special? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Awptimus Prime ( 695459 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:26PM (#24831695)

    Lawn care is pure eye candy. It hurts nobody to let your lawn go to hell, except that it looks bad and poor weak-brained people can't withstand that.

    Well, it depends on what part of the country you are in. In my area, near the swamps, if you don't maintain your lawn, pine straw and grass will build up very quickly. Very quickly, you will find your home and neighbor's property (if close, like in a subdivision) full of cockroaches, ants, and mice.

    I do agree, though. Places with more arid climates seem to do this sort of thing more for the sake of vanity. But I say that being unaware of what sort of pitfalls a lot of growth near housing structures come with in those regions.

  • by rapiddescent ( 572442 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @12:54PM (#24832107)

    funnily enough, I was out as an observer on Saturday night with our local Community Officers as a "Community Council" representative in our town (popn 20,000), aka unpaid volunteer as per article. In Scotland, the community police are real police officers and are used for city centre crime and so on. They are not armed and many police officers here do not want to be armed. The PC I was with said the best weapon he had was his voice.

    Whilst I was with them, it was mostly drunken & disordly, one drugs offence, kids (less than 16yrs) with cider and buckfast, pissing in the street type of arrests that are very common in the UK on a Saturday night. (note to North American readers: you have no idea how much of an alcohol nation the UK is, it makes "Spring Break" look like a vicars tea party))

    Are we being asked to spy on neighbours? well, not really. They recently asked us to help identify some hoodlum who had been stealing satnavs out of cars but really, here, crime is very low and we don't get much more than that. They once asked the community to look out for some folks who were dumping industrial rubbish in the corner of the park - I imagine that some areas of England are a bit like the article describes, but not here in Scotland (which is still part of the UK, for the moment)

  • by foobsr ( 693224 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @01:07PM (#24832229) Homepage Journal
    Not so sure whether German is a beautiful language, but I well remember that my mother refused to talk at normal loudness level at home due to implanted fears of being spied upon (I am born 1951). On a broader level, this transformed into a variety of conditions like depression, anxiety etc. to be found within the 'post-war generation" here.

  • by mollymoo ( 202721 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @01:19PM (#24832337) Journal
    Funny how the actual copper who turned up managed to jump in and pull the kid out, eh?
  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @01:45PM (#24832747)

    "Keep trying to change the system through demonstration and voting."

    More than a million people demonstrated in the streets of London against the invasion of Iraq, but the government went ahead and did it anyway. 78% of the British people did not vote for the Labour government, but they were elected anyway; worse, they were only elected because of Scottish votes, but many of the most unpopular laws they've passed don't apply in Scotland.

    There is roughly zero chance of changing things through demonstrating or voting in the UK. It's a rapidly decaying police state where a chav who beats you up in the street will get a slap on the wrist, while a middle class productive worker who doesn't go along with the latest 'recycling' bullshit will get a big fine and a criminal record that will cause them problems for years afterwards.

    And that is why I left for good last year. Anyone with a clue should be getting the hell out before emigration is banned too; they've already talked about requiring exit visas to leave the country, it won't be long before they're brought in.

  • Re:Whats so special? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Neoprofin ( 871029 ) <(neoprofin) (at) (> on Monday September 01, 2008 @02:51PM (#24833425)
    I'm undoing a pile of moderation by replying to you, but I guess that's how the system works. Ron Paul did not vote in favor of outlawing abortion, he voted again the Federal Government denying the states authority to decide. Ron Paul, as a constitutionalists believes that the Federal government is only granted the powers specifically stated within the constitution and all other powers are defaulted to the states, which would include abortions.

    I hope you just weren't aware of the logic but I fear you're just hear trolling.
  • by yuna49 ( 905461 ) on Monday September 01, 2008 @02:53PM (#24833447)

    I lived in London in the early 1970s for a while when the IRA was bombing public buildings. I spent a considerable amount of time going in and out of Parliament doing my dissertation research and regularly had my bags inspected and so forth. All these measures seemed reasonable given the actual threat IRA bombings posed.

    Yet I don't recall any political party at the time advocating anything like the extensive state surveillance apparatus that has been implemented in Britain over the past few years. Perhaps being back in the US I'm not as sensitive to the threat posed by al-Qaeda to the British public, but al-Qaeda doesn't seem substantially more dangerous than were the IRA in the 70's.

    As a American with leftish tendencies, I find it sad to see the Labour party become the party of surveillance and represssion. It's hard to imagine the Tories would be much better. The LibDems typically stand up for personal privacy; are they the only political party now committed to the defense of individual rights in the UK today?

    Or is this all a popular reaction to the fact that Britain has become even more multi-racial now than it was then? Is this really fundamentally a racist reaction?

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!