Saturday, September 06, 2008

A yet lower low

I just saw the front page of the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph. The front page has a title that reads:

Army of children paid to snoop

The article goes on to describe that several city councils are both paying and training children of ages as low as 8 to report people committing things like littering. There are about 5000 active volunteers, both adult and kids, who are offered 500 pounds for evidence leading to a conviction of minor infractions. Some of them are assigned numeric codes so they can report anonymously. They are encouraged to photograph of videotape neighbors guilty of

[...] dog-fouling, litter or "bin crimes". The "covert human intelligence resources", as some are described, are asked to pass on the names of neighbors they believe to be responsible, or to take down their car numbers. A spokesman for Ealing council, west London, said: "There are hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers, ared eight to 10 years old, who are trained to identify and report envirocrime issues such as graffiti and fly-tipping." Harlow council, Essex, said: "We currently have 25 Street Scene Champions who work with the council. They are all aged between 11 to 14". [...] The increase in surveillance comes at a time when an estimated 169 councils have halted weekly rubbish collections. [...] Some [councils] merely ask recruits to watch out for problems, while others are sent on patrol.

Roughly one in six city councils contacted by the newspaper, 36 out of 240, is running this program. Where do they get those lovely ideas? I can't help thinking of 1984, of course... from Wikipedia we get the following piece:

In his journal he explains thoughtcrime: Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death. The Thought Police have two-way telescreens [read: cameras] (in the living quarters of every Party member and in every public area), hidden microphones, and anonymous informers to spy potential thought-criminals who might endanger The Party. Children are indoctrinated to informing; to spy and report suspected thought-criminals — especially their parents.

I tried looking up the article in Google so I could provide an URL. A phrase search brings up only 3 indirect hits at this point. If you search the article title in the newspaper's website it just does not come up --- but maybe they don't provide access to the printed material.

In any case, I have it in print next to my laptop. So... this newspaper is the Saturday, September 6, 2008 issue of The Daily Telegraph (number 47699), printed in Brussels (Belgium) by Europrinter S.A. The title of the article reads "Army of children paid to snoop", it's on the left side of the front page, and it is written by Martin Beckford, Sarah Graham and Betsy Mead.

Now, personally I do not mind adults exercising critical thinking and reporting crime or offences or whatever. But children aged 8 trained to do so? Don't you think that's too much?


Graham said...

Teaching children to respect the environment they live in, and how their actions can help to protect and improve it? In my youth, this was called Civics, and was seen as a good thing. Why is it now a bad thing?

Of course, the Daily Telegraph hates anything that isn't a market-driven solution, but it takes a fair amount of double-think for them to be able to criticise such traditional conservative lessons as "know right from wrong", "respect the law" and "always report crimes".

Andres said...


I think you refer to something different. See, I'd have no problem with teaching children, perhaps in a school environment, how to be responsible with their environment. In other words, I think it's good knowledge for kids to use on themselves.

However, I do have a problem with government training children how to become a judge of other people's behavior in a more police oriented environment. Moreover, I find it really disturbing that these so-called Champions are assigned numeric codes such as agent 007.

What is more, I do not think an 8 year old kid can be a judge of adult behavior, and I am having a lot of trouble seeing anonymous calls to a city council by someone in grade school as an exemplary display of civics.

One could argue that an 8 year old kid can clearly distinguish throwing garbage in the wrong place. However, it is not clear that kids must necessarily tell the truth or understand the consequences of lying. Witness, for example, the huge problems that sometimes trouble teenagers cause their parents in the US. Basically, the recourse they always have to avoid the responsibility for their actions is to call the police and claim that their parents have abused them. The police comes over, and it's a game of he said she said. Teenagers usually win it.

How does that help? Where do you draw the line?

And, finally, coming back to the matter at hand, what do you think is going to happen when behaviorally unstable adults realize that kids are dangerous because they call the police without thinking? Shoot, right? Or use the blunt object, right? Why is it ok to put children in that position? Since when is it that law enforcement needs the help of kids whose age is measured with a single digit to prevent petty offenses almost not worth prosecuting? What is the rationale for giving 500 pounds to an 8 year old child?

I propose that the personnel involved in this program goes back to picking up the trash weekly. In this way, they should help reducing the risk that the above mentioned kids get sick from stuff such as plague or hantavirus, which are usually associated to the rats that naturally come with garbage.

But... this is just my opinion.


Andres said...


Also, before I forget... please no ad-hominem attacks against a newspaper. Use those civics lessons and keep the argument to the message, not the messenger.


Peter William Lount said...

1984 has already arrived, we're just seeing it evolve to the horrors described in the book. Bit by bit people accept each step towards the extremist state totalitarianism in supposedly free societies of the West. Technology made 1984 practical, as was proven in many old style Soviet States. Now with advanced systems it's easy to track everyone with more and more precision. Thought crimes are already something to watch out for when interacting with those arrogant people who pretend that they are the government. What they fail to see is the terrorism that they as the government inflict upon people.

Now technology will really bring us one of the defining tools of the novel 1984, the two way television screen. Apple recently filed a patent for it! LCD panels with built in camera ccd sensors at each pixel (or a significant portion thereof). So soon every screen will also be a camera! Nice for your iPhone unless you can't turn it off!

Apple Patents LCD+Camera!

Fight for your freedom. Having minions of the state monitor you is state based terrorism. Fight them. Follow the council members around with camera 7/24/365, publish the raw footage online, and see how they like it! They won't like it. Likely they'll retaliate by having you arrested for stalking them. Sue them for setting up a distributed stalking "ring".

Watch the watchers! Report the crimes (and legal terrorist acts) of your government members and staff online. Don't let them get away with it! Spread the word.

Put forward laws so that ALL government business MUST be recorded and streamed LIVE to the Internet and to independent sites for independent review by the people to whom that government is supposed to be managing the groups affairs. It's only fair that if the government watches us and has us watch each other that the members of the government and all their decisions be recorded and watched by the citizens and the public at large. This ensures no funny business by the government members. Think of it as Little Brothers Watching the Government for their crimes and terrorist acts.

Andy said...

Until I read your blog post, I had no idea that this was going on in my own country (and county).

Very disturbing.

What happens when a fly-tipper takes revenge upon a child, or a child's family, who he suspects of 'grassing' on him/her? Is there some kind of witness protection programme in place? I doubt it.

What happens if it goes one step further, and kids are asked to report the names of suspected illegal immigrants, terrorists, benefit fraudsters, etc? "The man at number 23 has a foreign accent, dresses in foreign clothes, stays at home all day, and when he goes out he carries a rucksack?"

As for photographing and videoing incidents, this would not have been possible twenty years ago. The kids would have to have been issued the appropriate spy 'gadgets' - camera, walkie-talkie etc. It is only the advent of cell-phones and the fact that young children routinely carry them that makes this scheme possible. I don't think the scheme would have got off the ground if Jimmy had returned from school one day carrying the aforementioned 'gadgets' and told his parents "The council has enlisted me as a Civic and given me this camera, cine-camera, and walkie-talkie so that I can spy on our neighbours".

I question whether young children need to carry cell phones at all. But given that all the public telephone boxes have been removed, perhaps they, regrettably, do.

p.s. Here is a link to the Telegraph article -

Carl Gundel said...

It's not okay to pay (or encourage) children to snoop on their neighbors and/or parents. And it's not okay for adults to do it either.

If you're interested in doing something locally about this kind of creeping tyrrany, I suggest you Google "common purpose". Or just watch this video

Reinout Heeck said...

I'm surprised about the references people make to 1984.
The very first association I saw was with the Khmer Rouge and The Killing Fields: make the kids feel important and give them a gun...