Civil libertarians are worried about an increasingly common form of domestic surveillance that has nothing to do with listening to your phone calls or reading your emails; it has to do with looking through your garbage.
Municipalities across the United States are implementing intrusive methods of monitoring the stuff people throw away as part of a push to increase efficiency and conformity to recycling rules. But the end result is that some garbage trucks now have the ability to record the contents of your trash cans on video to inspect each object.
“This kind of automated garbage monitoring raises very serious privacy concerns,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned in a press release on Friday. “While encouraging residents to recycle is commendable, any program involving the government’s systematic monitoring of citizens crosses a line. The contents of your trash can be surprisingly revealing.”
Residents in several Wisconsin cities are already subject to the new video monitoring practice. In Seattle, where garbage men can visually inspect garbage and levy fines on bad recyclers, residents are suing the city for violating their privacy.
There are also digital methods of tracking people’s garbage. In some cities, trash cans are monitored with RFID devices (Radio-Frequency Identification); the chips are attached to the bins, so that computers inside trash trucks can determine and record their movements. In Charlotte, N. C., collectors monitor the chips to “track and manage cart inventory,” and determine who is actually putting their recycling bin out on the curb. Dayton, Ohio, has been tracking trash can locations since 2010, and residents who recycle are eligible for a cash prize. In Cleveland, if the chip shows a recyclable cart hasn’t been brought to the curb in weeks, a trash supervisor can sort through the trash and impose a $100 fine if the regular trash has more than 10 percent recyclable material — although no fines have yet been levvied.
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