Electronic spy 'bugs' have been secretly planted in hundreds of thousands of household wheelie bins.
The gadgets - mostly installed by companies based in Germany - transmit information about the contents of the bins to a central database which then keeps records on the waste disposal habits of each individual address.
Already some 500,000 bins in council districts across England have been fitted with the bugs - with nearly all areas expected to follow suit within the next couple of years.
Until now, the majority of bins have been altered without the knowledge of their owners. In many cases, councils which ordered the installation of the devices did not even debate the proposals publicly.
The official reason for the bugs is to 'improve efficiency' and settle disputes between neighbours over wheelie-bin ownership. But experts say the technology is actually intended to enable councils to impose fines on householders who exceed limits on the amount of non-recyclable waste they put out. New powers for councils to do this are expected to be introduced by the Government shortly.
But the revelation that the bins have already been altered ignited a 'Bin Brother' row over privacy and taxes. Conservative MP Andrew Pelling said burglars could hack into the computer system to see if sudden reductions in waste at individual households meant the owners were on holiday and the property empty.
He said: 'This is nothing more than a spy in the bin and I don't think even the old Soviet Union made such an intrusion into people's personal lives.
'It is Big Brother gone mad. I think a more British way of doing things is to seek to persuade people rather than spy on them.'
Has Big Brother in the
Section 3 of the RIP Act, cameras on every corner of
I am a firm believer in the balance. The government has a right and a duty to protect its people, but it is also the duty of the public to keep the government in check, which means the general public should want to be informed, should want to know what is going on, they should get involved as much as possible.