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31 August 2006

Outrage Over 'Secret Bugs' In Rubbish Bins - Evening Express

by Lynn Kernan and David Ewen, Evening Express

Secret electronic bugs have been fitted to thousands of household recycling boxes.

The Evening Express can reveal Aberdeenshire Council boxes have devices that can be used to keep tabs on their use.

The penny-sized chips are found under the lip of the lids.

And residents have been told nothing about them.

But the chips - which can tell authorities how many people are using the recycling service - have not been activated by the council so far.

However, MSPs and members of the public have been angered by the prospect.

Today West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MSP Mike Rumbles described the move as "absolutely outrageous".

The Liberal Democrat said: "It's an appalling situation where people have not been informed so a debate can ensue."

He accused his party colleagues in the council's administration of breaking Liberal principles.

SNP Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson, who has studied the technology being used, said: "It's very Big Brother and the fact they've not told the public they are doing this is an ominous sign of how much we can trust Aberdeenshire Council with our data."

Newmachar mum Yvonne McCrum was speechless when she turned her black recycling box upside down and saw the "world tag".

She said: "There was nothing in the information about that. The council was quick enough to give us information about how taking the tops off of bottles and taking the paper off of cans - but didn't tell us anything about this.

"If the council has nothing to hide why weren't we told."

A council spokesman said no monitoring of recycling was taking place - but did not rule it out in future.

He said: "No firm decision has yet been made."

The spokesman stressed information could not be linked to any individual house.

Each chip has a unique serial number which would allow waste bosses to know where recycling was taking place.

The spokesman said: "The boxes purchased by Aberdeenshire Council do have chips moulded into them as standard, but in Aberdeenshire the chips are not being used.

"The chips are capable of being used to record the number of boxes that are being used for recyclate collection but do not hold personal data, nor can boxes be linked to specific households.

"What they do allow waste management authorities to do is get figures for the number of boxes being presented for collection on particular rounds."

The radio frequency identification (RFID) chip transmits a signal which could be read by a counter on a collection vehicle, allowing the recycling rates to be measured.

But today residents expressed their concern at not being warned.

Yvonne, who lives in Newmachar's Station Road, added: "It is bad enough they know what goes into our black boxes, never mind anything else.

"It seems to me like they are spying on us."

Ron McKail, a retired teacher who lives on Westhill's Brimmond Drive and is chairman of the local residents association, said: "If they are going to put a chip in and keep a note of things then I would like to know about it."

Ellon householder Mary Curran said: "It makes you feel very suspicious, like it's Big Brother watching.

"I will be furious if they start checking how people are using their bins and livid if they start sending out fines because I know lots of people aren't using them because of the hassle."

Inverurie resident Patricia Cowling branded the council "cheeky" for failing to tell householders about the chip. She said: "I heard that they were doing this sort of thing abroad and maybe down south but not here."

The council spokesman defended the decision not to inform residents.

He said: "The system is not active and no personal data would be held on the chip."

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