Taking The Mic

By london_ken Last edited 164 months ago
Taking The Mic

Wi-fi is a marvellous thing. It allows all our dear readers, who we imagine are sophisticated early-adopter types who swan around with the latest PalmOne, Pocket PC or PowerBook, to read Londonist in whatever part of London is trendy today.

But Wi-fi has a dark side. For one thing, it means the Londonist slave-drivers editors constantly hounding the poor Londonist writers to make sure we're always online ready to do their bidding.

According to The Evil Standard, Westminster Council are harnessing the power of modern technology by using wireless microphones to monitor noisy parts of the borough. The idea is that the microphones can automatically alert the council's inspectors when an anti-social level of noise is sensed. They plan to site the microphones on lamp posts outside people's houses. Londonist has a lamp post looking right into our bedroom window (it keeps the lighting bills down although it's odd living in an orange glow) but fortunately doesn't live in Westminster. This is through choice, we hasten to add, not Shirley Porter's gerrymandering.

"Nearly a third of people in Britain are annoyed by noisy neighbours, and for 14 per cent it has an impact on quality of life, recent research found," according to the paper, so Westminster Council feel they're doing the right thing. (As usual, there's no hint of who conducted the research when using which methodology, so for all we know they might have polled the local dog population. They could have at least made up quoted some statistics relating to London only.)

Whether you consider this development a good thing or not depends very much on how your feel about modern technology such as Wi-fi, mobile phones or e-mail: liberator or shackle? The story as reported on the This Is London website seems fairly benign about the whole matter of the noise monitoring microphones, even letting a quote like "Noise monitoring and CCTV are just two of the initial applications" (Steve Harrison of Westminster Council) pass by without comment. This is somewhat unexpected from the newspaper and Tory propaganda group which screams 'nanny state' at the slightest provocation.

So what do we want? A libertarian state with minimal state intervention? Or imaginative use of technology to maintain law and order? Or do we want the state to intervene minimally where the 'nice' middle classes are concerned (with minimal taxes to match) whilst controlling to the nth the degree the 'undesirables' who don't conform to the blue rinse idea of polite society?

You pays your tax (or not) and you takes your choice.

Update: there's an addendum to this post after the click...

The microphone image is by mcmrbt on Flickr, used under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons licence.


Turns out that this is quite an old story and one picked up by Housing Today (free registration required) almost a year ago. In fact, it was covered by Londonist's very own Will.

In the interests of fair coverage, here are some more details:

Each wireless camera costs £8,000 to install (partly because they don't need wiring in). In contrast, the average cost of a conventional camera installed in Soho is £40,000.

The pilot scheme was so successful central government gave Westminster £500,000 to extend the scheme.

The focus will be on crime and antisocial behaviour at first but the council is looking at ways to expand the system to take in housing, health, social care and much more. In the near future, housing officers and social services will be linked up to the network and it's also proposed that the network could be used to make home and foreign-language education possible for local schools.

Several other councils were reported by Housing Today to be interested, including West Thurrock and Waltham Forest. Londonist's bedroom is still relatively private, however.

Last Updated 03 May 2005