8th Feb 2016
Queensland’s privacy commissioner is reviewing new ‘big brother’ surveillance technology being used to record video and audio of members of the public in the Moreton Bay area.
Yesterday, the Moreton Bay Regional Council announced it had deployed about 330 new devices in public spaces, with plans to install dozens more.
Mayor Allan Sutherland said it would help boost community safety.
“Moreton Bay Region now has the ability to not only see what’s going on, but to be able to hear what’s going on,” he said.
“We don’t listen on a daily basis; as requested if the police come along and say: ‘Can we have the footage?’
“Unless you’ve got anything to hide, you haven’t got anything to worry about.”
The devices record and store data for several weeks.
Council ‘very scant on details’
Queensland’s privacy commissioner Phil Green said he was enquiring to see if the use of the technology breached privacy laws.
“I’m still in the fact-finding mode — I obviously don’t act rashly, I’m trying to look into this and have a rational good public debate on the issue,” he said.
“If the public aren’t happy with this sort of development, then the State Government can enact laws, but I think the laws already possibly stop this sort of thing happening.”
He said the private sector could soon follow suit, unless privacy laws were clarified.
“Do the public want it? Because if councils do it, then the universities do it, and the hospitals do it,” Mr Green said.
“If it’s one council doing it, then it could be all the councils doing it across Australia, so we do need to look at it carefully.”
Mr Green said his office was only informed last week.
“I understand my office did receive a draft press release about it, but very scant on details and of course that’s probably not the best way of going about launching something about this when it involves a fair investment,” Mr Green said.
Council has not breached any laws, spokesperson says
Councillor Sutherland was unable to comment on the development, but in a statement a spokesperson said the council had not breached any laws.
“Council provided a copy of its proposed media release and advisory signage to staff from the Office of the Information Commissioner,” the statement said.
“Council is satisfied its use of the CCTV footage and audio is consistent with its obligations under the Information Privacy Act.”
In the last budget, council announced $801,000 would be spent on upgrading surveillance cameras across public areas.
Some of the new cameras have been deployed in locations including Centenary Lakes Park in Caboolture, Burpengary Sports Precinct, and Bee Gees Way at Redcliffe.
‘Big brother’ watching and listening
Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said the public should be concerned.
“It seems that not only big brother is watching but in the guise of the Moreton Bay council, he’s also listening,” Mr Potts said.
“I can understand why people in a public place may have no expectation of privacy, but their ordinary conversations about their friends, about their families, about their work and just the ordinary social chit-chat, should always remain completely sacrosanct.
“If the Mayor was fair dinkum in his argument that only those people who have something to hide would object to being listened to by the Moreton Bay Regional Council, perhaps he could volunteer to be listened to seven days a week, 24 hours a day, by his constituents before he understand the value of privacy.”