Outrage Over Sinister Recruitment of British Kids as Environmental Spies

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 7 2008 11:42 AM

The escalation in Britain's growing surveillance state has created outrage over the way councils are using powers originally designed to combat terrorism and organised crime to spy on residents.

British children as young as eight have been recruited by councils to serve as environmental volunteers and report petty offences such as littering by their neighbours.

It also emerged last month that around 1,400 security guards, car park attendants and town hall staff have been given police-style powers including the right to issue on-the-spot fines for littering, cycling on the pavement and other offences, The Telegraph reported.

Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, described the recruitment of children as "downright sinister".

"We are deeply troubled by these developments - they are straight out of the Stasi copybook. There is a combination of ever-stricter rules and ever more Draconian attempts to control people," he said.

"Councils are using anti-terrorist legislation for the tiniest of things, like the people who put out their bins early, and the threats of fines and prosecutions combine to constitute fleecing the people the councils are meant to be serving," Sinclair added.

"There are hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers, aged 8-10 years old, who are trained to identify and report enviro-crime issues such as graffiti and fly-tipping," Ealing Council in West London said.

Among the environmental crimes which the volunteers are asked to report, which vary from council to council, are failure to recycle rubbish, vandalism, graffiti, dog fouling, fly-tipping and abandoned vehicles.

They are assigned James Bond-style code numbers, which they use instead of their real names when they ring a special informer's hotline, the Paper reported.

More than 240 councils across England and Wales were contacted to ask if they had recruited environmental volunteers.

One in six councils was quoted as saying that they had signed up teams of "environment volunteers" who are being encouraged to photograph or video neighbours guilty of dog fouling, littering or bin crimes.

Of those, 36 or just under one in six, said they had. They included Luton, with 600 volunteers, the highest of any council; Southwark, south London (400) Birmingham (370) Blaenau Gwent (300) and Congleton in Cheshire (300).