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Home > Culture and Society

WAWIBF... Rubbish

1 September 2006

As the mania to stick shiny new RFID chips on anything and everything continues, it is hardly surprising that several local councils have stuck devices on rubbish bins. This is, naturally, to "help end disputes over bin ownership", they lied through blackened teeth.

RFID of course, is short for Radio Frequency Identification, a technology that allows everyday items - such as bins, cars, electronic goods, you - to be electronically tagged so they can be identified by reading devices. Good for stock control in shops and ending disputes over dustbin ownership, bad for civil liberties. RFID can be used, for example, to track consumer habits in shops, or, it turns out, to spy on your rubbish bins. And if certain corporations get their way: members of the US Armed Forces. Implanted. Under the skin.

It took Conservative MP Andrew Pelling to comment on the utter lunacy of this idea: 'I don't think even the Soviet Union made such an intrusion into people's personal lives'. But it's not just the privacy issues that concern us, it is the fact that people have almost certainly sat around a table and asked the question 'How can we make this pay?'

Some RFID-enabled dustcarts already have weighing mechanisms on them, so it is one easy step from weighing a household's weight to charging them by the bin-load. In an honest, rose-tinted world where you can still leave your front door unlocked, and feral kids don't steal the milk from your doorstep, a 'Pay as you throw' scheme might actually work as a way to encourage recycling.

Back in the real world, however, 'Pay as you throw' will, of course, become 'Don't Pay as you throw it into your neighbour's bin at three in the morning', or better still, 'Get some other bugger to pay as you dump it in a hedge'. There will be estates where bin lorries will never need venture ever again as wheelie bins remain empty, while skips behind the council offices suddenly find themselves filled to brimming in the early hours, despite the best efforts of heavily-armed revenue men fighting a losing battle against crap smugglers.

Tax anything, and you start a black market. A black market in black bags.

Poor Ruth Kelly, charged with building happy, harmonious communities the length of the nation will instead find herself right in the middle of Environment Minster Ben Bradshaw's Great Wheelie Bin Riots of 2007. This will happen, of course, just before the great Disabling-the-Active-RFID-in-your-car industry is uncovered by a shocked - *shocked* - Daily Express, as the road-pricing and follow-your-every-little-movement plan goes horribly wrong.

Time to break out the tin-foil helmets. Again.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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