|Vital protection or sinister addition to our surveillance
society? The spy camera hidden in traffic wardens' ID badges
Mail | March 17, 2012
It looks like a standard identity badge, giving the traffic warden’s number and confirming that he is an officer of the local council.
But a closer examination of the card pinned to the warden’s jacket reveals something far more sinister – it contains a tiny lens and is actually a camera for filming motorists.
It is so unobtrusive that many motorists would not even know they were being filmed.
Wardens – or civil enforcement officers (CEOs), as they are now known – are under no obligation to inform drivers that they are filming. The only notification is a small strip across the top of the badge which reads ‘CCTV in operation’. If there is a dispute, footage can be used as evidence in a court.
Councils that have given the £500 cameras to wardens say they protect staff from abusive behaviour and also helps resolve disputes.
But privacy campaigners say the camera is a covert tool that will place ordinary citizens under an even greater level of surveillance.
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘A tiny warning on a badge hardly constitutes telling someone they’re being recorded.
At the very minimum it should be a legal requirement that the member of staff informs the other person they are being recorded, but in reality it’s just another attack on our privacy and treats every member of the public as being under suspicion.
‘There is absolutely nothing to stop a council official or someone else with access to the video putting the footage online or releasing it to a third party. Perhaps worse, there is nothing to stop the cameras being activated in inappropriate situations and abused.
‘If the person using the device is also responsible for uploading the footage, who is making sure the system is used responsibly?’
Another critic, parking campaigner Barrie Segal, said: ‘This sounds like a new device to intimidate motorists.’
Many wardens already carry miniature Polaroid-style cameras in case a car owner disputes the position of a ticketed vehicle. But the video badge takes the surveillance of road-users a stage further.
It can capture up to eight hours of high-quality film and audio before needing to be recharged.
When not in use, the camera is placed in a cradle that allows data
to be downloaded to a computer. Under data protection laws, information
is supposed to be wiped after 60 days.
Caren Hindle, parking services manager for Barrow-in-Furness Council, said: ‘Incidents of abuse towards our staff have been practically non-existent since we started using the video badge.’
Edesix, the Edinburgh-based software company which makes the device, says the badge is intended to make it easy for wardens to wear on their uniforms and denies there is an element of subterfuge.
Andy Burke, Edesix’s business development manager, said: ‘If someone says, “The officer gave me permission to park in that space”, we can check whether that really was the case.
‘Data is security-encrypted and a password is needed to gain access to the computer. There is no way a CEO can view the footage. There is nothing covert about this device.
‘We wanted to come up with something that was easier to use and lighter to carry than a normal body camera. ‘I believe there are enough controls in place to make it a force for good.’