There was a time when an unknown bloke snooping through your rubbish bin could have expected a punch in the face for his troubles, and your neighbours would have had your back.
Not now, and certainly not in the rapidly gentrifying inner northeastern Perth suburb of Bassendean.
I’ve had screeds of links and messages, not to mention phone calls from two TV stations, asking me what I think about the decision by the town council there to rollout of a new digital monitoring scheme for what goes into its rate-payers’ bins.
Well, my first thought was that it was an invasion of privacy.
My second thought was, why would you even bother?
But the more I thought about it, the more it started to make a weird kind of sense to me.
Let me be clear. I don’t think Bassendean’s seven councillors are colluding to grab their residents’ data and to put it to nefarious purposes of their own devising. These guys only figured out how to work a static camera and wifi hook-up last year, so they’re not going to be giving Cambridge Analytics a run for their money anytime soon.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be worried.
Because behind the Town Council, there appear to be a number of nameless IT companies, offering their help in what is currently being billed as a ‘voluntary trial.’
The thing about voluntary trials, at least where recycling is concerned, is that your volunteers tend to be converts to your cause by the time they sign up. Converts who charge you money for fatuous services such as monitoring rubbish bind.
So what will the data from this trial look like? Well, I’m only guessing, but I reckon it will tell us that more than 90 per of participants are wonderful recyclers, five per cent sometimes confuse soft plastic with hard, but are otherwise well-meaning types, and Grandad’s spare set of dentures were last tracked heading for a landfill somewhere north of Woop-Woop.
No one in their right mind is going to pay for data like that, not for all the soiled nappies and discarded dog-ends in the world.
No, what’s likely to happen is this. In six to twelve months, a pointless loss leader of a trial will be declared a resounding success. It will then be made mandatory in Bassendean, and rolled out to neighbouring suburbs. Then the IT companies will come into their own. They will have a free pass to snoop through your trash, and your life, at will.
If we as Australians value our privacy, this has to stop here, and it has to stop now.
My trash is my trash, and if I want to recycle it, I will. If a company wants to take it off my hands, then sift through it to obtain recyclable materials, and make a buck, I’m fine with that. But for my local council – whose wages I pay through my ever-increasing rates, let’s not forget – to play Big Brother, to threaten and to monitor me, just isn’t on.
Personally, I’d suggest we treat nosy parker councillors the same way we treat the crows that peck and peck at the plastic containers on top of our trash until they have their beaks well and truly embedded.
We can still throw rocks at scavenging carrion, can’t we?
Over-reaching councillors are no better in my book, or in my bin for that matter.
Aaron Stonehouse is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the WA Parliament, and member for the South Metropolitan Region.
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