Important privacy news reaches us, hot from the virtual presses of . The council is sponsoring a plan for surveyors to tour the Cambridge area, using thermal imaging cameras to take pictures of houses. Those that are revealed to have poor insulation will be asked if they want a visit from experts who will assist them in improving the situation, and as part of the process, homeowners will be shown the thermal image of their property.
Some people will resent the idea of the council touring the streets, taking day-glo photos of residents’ homes. They could conceivably record images that may embarrass or annoy. However, Councillor Sarah Brown, an elected member who lacks nothing in imagination, has wider fears. Should amorous residents of the area be engaged in passionate relations, emitting copious body heat near the windows, their activities will be recorded.
Councillor Brown is concerned at the potential problems should the participants not be man and wife. The scheduled visit of the home insulation police could rapidly degenerate into the revelation of extra-marital affairs. You can just picture the scene: “Marjorie, what were you doing in the garage with those three men?” Or perhaps “Colin, can you explain why you are silhouetted in the front bedroom with a Rhinoceros?” OK, Councillor Brown didn’t come up with anything that specific, but I’m only following her lead.
The website has one of those wonderful news headlines at which the Daily Express is so adept: “Will thermal images catch love cheats?”. Erm, no. The company running the scheme are clear-cut in demolishing this idea, stating that the sensors cannot see through glass, and if a person was visible, they would appear only as a blur. Perhaps influenced by this, the rest of the website’s coverage is balanced and fair, concentrating on reporting the opposing views of the debate’s participants. Any hack worth their salt would at least have embellished the thermal image illustration on the story with a mocked-up image of saturnalian goings-on in the lounge. They don’t even make anything of the fact that the Council’s principal scientific officer is a Mr Dicks.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that there appears to be no real privacy worry at all, I think Councillor Brown deserves points for creativity. The average councillor tends to just find some fly-tipping or dodgy paving, and then gets themselves photographed in front of it looking cross. But no, here we have sex, invasions of privacy, domestic turmoil, and even the possibility that incriminating pictures will be sent to the wrong address and thus the infidelity broadcast to the neighbourhood in an array of strange colours. If you’re going to make a mountain out of a molehill, this is how to do it in style. So, 10/10 for technique.
My only other observation is that the story does contain the popular nugget, cited by the council in its defence, that lots of other local authorities have already signed up. In my experience, this might simply mean that they’re all wrong. But nevertheless, one can hope that if Councillor Brown’s concerns are shared in other places, they are offered a more firm reassurance than this somewhat equivocal quote from the Councillor with lead responsibility for housing: “I can’t offer you a 100 per cent guarantee but I’m reasonably confident and data protection is something I care about, and I’m reasonably confident we should be OK
So that’s OK then.