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Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

A spy in your bin?

Full bins awaiting rubbish collection in Knowsley, Liverpool
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 28 October 1600 BST
On Radio 4 and online

The government is giving local councils in England and Wales powers to charge for rubbish collection - and that could mean electronic monitoring of how much you throw away.

We hear of concerns that putting microchip devices onto bins could lead to abuses of information.

Barrister Tim Pitt-Payne from Eleven King's Bench Walk says "there's quite a lot of mistrust in the way authorities, including local authorities use information."

He describes worries that councils could expand the use of the data beyond the original purpose of reducing waste and encouraging recycling.

Local authorities could for example use the devices to check for sudden rises in the amount of rubbish. That could suggest an additional person has moved in and the household isn't paying enough council tax.

However, Councillor Paul Bettison, who speaks on behalf of the Local Government Association, says such fears are groundless.

"I'd be amazed if you could use that information for any nefarious use," he says.

St. George's Hall

We continue our series of reports on famous legal locations with a visit to Liverpool's St. George's Hall.

The magnificent neo-classical building houses a concert hall and the former criminal courts.

  St George's Hall interior
The opulent interiors of St George's Hall in Liverpool.

It was probably the only place in the world where you could hear a death sentence and some Beethoven on the same day.

Guide Lorraine Lett and former judge Dick Hamilton bring to life the famous and infamous past of the courts - including the sensational case of Florence Maybrick, who was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic.

After 14 years in prison she was released when it was discovered that her husband had himself taken arsenic to improve his sexual performance.


It's just a lump of rock in the North Atlantic - but the island of Rockall is at the centre of a major international territorial dispute.

It is claimed by Britain, Iceland and Denmark and in the past by Ireland.

Green peace activists on Rockall island
One of the many parties claiming territorial rights of Rockall.

Britain is seeking UN recognition of its rights to the sea bed around the island in the hope of benefiting from possible oil and gas fields.

The claim will test a new international law of the sea which extends rights to the continental shelf.

The Man who Sued God

Ernie Chambers is a combative sort - which he'll need to be in his lawsuit against the Almighty.

The former Nebraska state senator says he decided to sue God in protest at political moves to ban certain types of lawsuits as frivolous.

Partial solar eclipse seen from Beijing
Can Nebraska's constitution mean even God can be sued?

He says the state's constitution allows anyone to sue anyone.

"That means you can sue anybody, including God, and I filed a lawsuit to demonstrate it," he tells the programme.

His initial suit was thrown out because he couldn't serve the papers.

However, Ernie Chambers plans to file an appeal to the Supreme Court - of Nebraska, not of heaven.

Your Comments


I would like to ask what planet your two contributors about 'pay as you throw' live? "Good manners and common courtesy" from one and "we'll all want to pay for our own rubbish" from the other. I would say about them that they are totally out of touch with today's society. I live in a large city and here or in any town anyway, rubbish would immediately be put in other people's bins, other people's gardens or out in the street. Anything to stop having to pay for it. Which would very quickly also include damage or removal of the chip. Even locks would only have a limited effect. I think anyone who considers this idea as workable is, at best, completely naive.

Neil Anderson

It may be hard to see how illegitimate use may be made of information generated by a system of waste collection charges, but the proposal is objectionable on a number of other grounds. Governments persist in producing wizard wheezes - back-of-an-envelope jobs or ideologically driven - which are ill-thought-out and generate unwanted and harmful side-effects.

Jonathan Phillips

I heard a counsellor defending the governments plans for ID chips on bins by saying 'I can't think of anything that the data could be used for'. I would like to know what is his qualification is for pronouncing his ignorance on this topic? If he is a well qualified expert in data mining, pattern recognition, and signal processing algorithms then his claim that he can't think of any other purpose that the data could be used for would hold some weight. With a little bit of effort I could probably come up with 20 different things that the data could be used for, some good, some bad.

Phil Harper

What is all that fuss about?

First : 2 of my daughters live in the Netherlands, they have never heard of micro chips in bins....

Second: In Switzerland you buy your (biodegradable) bin liners, so you pay per filled bin liner - in advance.

This makes you really aware how much you are wasting.

All that spying etc feels like Germany 1938.

Ilse Eilbeck

When the council issued black wheelie bins, I wrote my house number on mine with grey paint. After the first collection, my neighbour, not noticing or ignoring the number, took my bin, and left me hers. I only noticed two weeks later, by which time my bin had her number painted on it. She refused to acknowledge that she had my bin, and refused to exchange them. So if we get fitted with chips, the council records will tell them that her bin is mine and vice-versa. It is vital that councils check the serial numbers of bins against the houses that are actually using them, not relying on their records to whom they were initially issued.

Osbert McPhee

St George's Hall:

Loved the bit about St George's Hall except the claim that it is the only building with a court and a grand hall. What about Leeds Town Hall where there are the same facilities? I am pretty sure that the court room scenes in Judge John Deed are filmed in the old Leeds Court room and there is a whopping great concert hall in the same building.

Gerry Martin

Coming Up

Sir Ken MacDonald talks to us as he prepares to step down as Director of Public Prosecutions.

Contact the programme

If you have thoughts on any of the topics we've covered, or any other legal issues, you can contact us by email at, or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS, or you can call us on 020 8752 5646.

Law In Action is broadcast on Tuesday 28 October 2008 at 1600 BST on BBC Radio 4.

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Microchip bins project rubbished
16 Jun 08 |  Norfolk
Island ownership accord 'closer'
02 Nov 07 |  Northern Ireland
Legal case against God dismissed
16 Oct 08 |  Americas

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