‘Spyplane’ above city sparks concern over privacy

A Cessna 310 plane similar to the one used by the city council

A Cessna 310 plane similar to the one used by the city council

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering North Oxford, Jericho and Summertown. Call me on 01865 425498

A PLANE has been used to photograph the whole of Oxford as part of the battle against illegal developments in the city, officials have revealed.

The plane was used in March to fly over Oxford in a bid to spot “beds in sheds”using thermal imaging, as council planning officers begin a city-wide crackdown.

But privacy groups have expressed concerns over the use of the plane without any notification to the public.

Oxford City Council chief executive Peter Sloman said: “There is evidence of illegal developments popping up around the city and some residents are living in them without kitchens or toilets or bathrooms.

“We want to nip this in the bud before it becomes a bigger problem and defend the vulnerable during the housing crisis.”

But the council has also said there are other uses for the data it has collected, such as detecting homes that are losing excessive amounts of heat.

It compared possible applications to those done by Luton Borough Council, which produced an online map that showed the heat loss of individual homes.

The council has mapped the entire city using a Cessna 310 – an American low-wing, twin-engined plane – a spokesman confirmed, and intends to keep the data “for as long as it is useful”.

The plane flew at night at about 7,000ft but the council did not state if future flights would take place during the daytime.

But a spokeswoman from privacy group Big Brother Watch called the collection of the data “disturbing”. Acting director Emma Carr said: “Residents in Oxford will be disturbed to hear that planes will be used to snoop on how much energy they are using or whether they have built a shed in their back garden.

“We need clear rules that establish what aircraft can be used and why, before we see our skies littered with flying cameras.”

Green councillor and scrutiny committee chairman Craig Simmons said the news was concerning.

He said: “I had not heard this was being done and so my concern would be would be whether the right checks and balances are in place.

“You need to be very careful with people’s privacy when using low-flying planes.”

Wolvercote resident Jane Wilkinson, of Rosamund Road, said: “I think it is an invasion of privacy, especially because they did not actually tell people they were doing it, or why, at the time.

“The council is voted in by residents, so they should have told us if they are doing this sort of thing.”

But Richard Groves, of Merrivale Square in North Oxford, said it was “no worse than Google Earth”.

He said: “I have not got a problem with it really. It is no more an invasion of privacy than a person driving around my street in their car.”

Council leader Bob Price said although council officers may visit homes identified as having buildings which might be illegal, residents would be given opportunities to explain if they were for non-residential uses.

He said: “I don’t think there is a need for checks on this because it is just a first step in the process of tracking illegal developments.

“And frankly, the landlords that make money from renting illegal and sub-standard accomodation deserve no sympathy from the general public.

“If people aren’t breaching the law they have nothing to worry about. It is very heavily regulated so it is only being used for this.”

He said the information from the planes was covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the safeguards built into that law.

The city council has so far spent £150,000 on the project, matched by the Government, but it did not state who it chartered the plane from.

Spokesman Peter Mr McQuitty saidthe council had looked to other areas, including Slough and Ealing where thermal imaging “had been used to great effect”, for ways to tackle illegal developments.

He said: “They had accurate, unarguable data in their hands that was 100 per cent effective as evidence in enforcement cases.

“It was also substantially cheaper than having people walking the streets and knocking on doors to find properties and will also provide a known reference point for planning developments.”

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Comments (19)

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9:13am Mon 30 Jun 14

EMBOX2 says...

I don't have a problem with this at all, OCC are too stupid to use the data for anything else. This beds in sheds problem is serious, and thanks to lots of immigrants and greedy locals it will only get worse until more housing is built, which is affordable (and that means £100k maximum).
I don't have a problem with this at all, OCC are too stupid to use the data for anything else. This beds in sheds problem is serious, and thanks to lots of immigrants and greedy locals it will only get worse until more housing is built, which is affordable (and that means £100k maximum). EMBOX2
  • Score: 8

9:31am Mon 30 Jun 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Of course they can't tell people in advance!

It would mean the "beds in sheds" tenants would be abused further by their landlords and forced not to use heating in the "sheds" on the freezing cold nights that they were at risk of being caught.

The same for people growing illegal substances in their lofts.

As for the Greens - you'd think they'd embrace the ability to help identify domestic hot-spots without adequate loft or house insulation...
Of course they can't tell people in advance! It would mean the "beds in sheds" tenants would be abused further by their landlords and forced not to use heating in the "sheds" on the freezing cold nights that they were at risk of being caught. The same for people growing illegal substances in their lofts. As for the Greens - you'd think they'd embrace the ability to help identify domestic hot-spots without adequate loft or house insulation... Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 14

9:58am Mon 30 Jun 14

Quentin Walker says...

Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.
Nothing to hide = nothing to fear. Quentin Walker
  • Score: 23

10:02am Mon 30 Jun 14

Quentin Walker says...

It's interesting to note the Oxford Mail's take on this story, ('This could be another step towards a Big Brother state') next but one article, denys user comments? A bastion of democracy?
It's interesting to note the Oxford Mail's take on this story, ('This could be another step towards a Big Brother state') next but one article, denys user comments? A bastion of democracy? Quentin Walker
  • Score: -3

11:03am Mon 30 Jun 14

Oxonian says...

EMBOX2 wrote:
I don't have a problem with this at all, OCC are too stupid to use the data for anything else. This beds in sheds problem is serious, and thanks to lots of immigrants and greedy locals it will only get worse until more housing is built, which is affordable (and that means £100k maximum).
Oh yes, it's the fault of "lots of immigrants" (again!). Perhaps this reader could tell us how many immigrants have been found living in sheds locally?
[quote][p][bold]EMBOX2[/bold] wrote: I don't have a problem with this at all, OCC are too stupid to use the data for anything else. This beds in sheds problem is serious, and thanks to lots of immigrants and greedy locals it will only get worse until more housing is built, which is affordable (and that means £100k maximum).[/p][/quote]Oh yes, it's the fault of "lots of immigrants" (again!). Perhaps this reader could tell us how many immigrants have been found living in sheds locally? Oxonian
  • Score: -21

11:34am Mon 30 Jun 14

jockox3 says...

"To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the virtue. ... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.”

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Idée Générale de la Révolution au XIXe Siècle (1851)

Nothing to see here - they’re just doing their job of governing us. If they didn’t they’d not be able to tell us all off for anything.
"To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the virtue. ... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Idée Générale de la Révolution au XIXe Siècle [The General Idea of the Revolution] (1851) Nothing to see here - they’re just doing their job of governing us. If they didn’t they’d not be able to tell us all off for anything. jockox3
  • Score: 2

12:28pm Mon 30 Jun 14

King Joke says...

For God's sake, they can't see anything more than the frequent leisure flights and flying lessons who regularly buzz over the city from Kidlington all through the summer months. If the 'beds in sheds' problem is as serious as they say it is then all they're doing is trying to do something about it.
For God's sake, they can't see anything more than the frequent leisure flights and flying lessons who regularly buzz over the city from Kidlington all through the summer months. If the 'beds in sheds' problem is as serious as they say it is then all they're doing is trying to do something about it. King Joke
  • Score: 24

2:53pm Mon 30 Jun 14

EMBOX2 says...

Oxonian wrote:
EMBOX2 wrote:
I don't have a problem with this at all, OCC are too stupid to use the data for anything else. This beds in sheds problem is serious, and thanks to lots of immigrants and greedy locals it will only get worse until more housing is built, which is affordable (and that means £100k maximum).
Oh yes, it's the fault of "lots of immigrants" (again!). Perhaps this reader could tell us how many immigrants have been found living in sheds locally?
I'll have to check for Oxford, but I know in Slough and parts of west London (Southall, mainly) it is in the hundreds. There was an interesting BBC Inside Out program on this a few months back,

Google "BBC inside out beds in sheds" - if you want to know more, which you probably don't as you're a left wing do-gooder, no?
[quote][p][bold]Oxonian[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]EMBOX2[/bold] wrote: I don't have a problem with this at all, OCC are too stupid to use the data for anything else. This beds in sheds problem is serious, and thanks to lots of immigrants and greedy locals it will only get worse until more housing is built, which is affordable (and that means £100k maximum).[/p][/quote]Oh yes, it's the fault of "lots of immigrants" (again!). Perhaps this reader could tell us how many immigrants have been found living in sheds locally?[/p][/quote]I'll have to check for Oxford, but I know in Slough and parts of west London (Southall, mainly) it is in the hundreds. There was an interesting BBC Inside Out program on this a few months back, Google "BBC inside out beds in sheds" - if you want to know more, which you probably don't as you're a left wing do-gooder, no? EMBOX2
  • Score: 9

3:42pm Mon 30 Jun 14

zho says...

>>I'll have to check for Oxford, but I know in Slough and parts of west London (Southall, mainly) it is in the hundreds. There was an interesting BBC Inside Out program on this a few months back,>>

Also a C4 Dispatches programme - see http://tinyurl.com/m
5p27c9
>>I'll have to check for Oxford, but I know in Slough and parts of west London (Southall, mainly) it is in the hundreds. There was an interesting BBC Inside Out program on this a few months back,>> Also a C4 Dispatches programme - see http://tinyurl.com/m 5p27c9 zho
  • Score: 7

12:27am Tue 1 Jul 14

Myron Blatz says...

And could also be used to check on all those 'second homes' owned by City and County councillors, together with parking of City Council vehicles and disabled drivers on double yellow lines!
And could also be used to check on all those 'second homes' owned by City and County councillors, together with parking of City Council vehicles and disabled drivers on double yellow lines! Myron Blatz
  • Score: -7

7:53am Tue 1 Jul 14

Geoff Roberts says...

"It would mean the "beds in sheds" tenants would be abused further by their landlords and forced not to use heating in the "sheds" on the freezing cold nights that they were at risk of being caught."

Except for the fact that thermal imaging spots body heat.
"It would mean the "beds in sheds" tenants would be abused further by their landlords and forced not to use heating in the "sheds" on the freezing cold nights that they were at risk of being caught." Except for the fact that thermal imaging spots body heat. Geoff Roberts
  • Score: 6

7:55am Tue 1 Jul 14

Geoff Roberts says...

" the council has also said there are other uses for the data it has collected, such as detecting homes that are losing excessive amounts of heat."

No. This is an excuse and a poor one at that. It's an aerial view, you can't tell anything about effectiveness of things like windows and doors, cavity walls. Then there's the fact that it's cheaper to do it by road and then there's the fact that it's not so good to do it in the middle of the night when many people switch off heating.

So, no.
" the council has also said there are other uses for the data it has collected, such as detecting homes that are losing excessive amounts of heat." No. This is an excuse and a poor one at that. It's an aerial view, you can't tell anything about effectiveness of things like windows and doors, cavity walls. Then there's the fact that it's cheaper to do it by road and then there's the fact that it's not so good to do it in the middle of the night when many people switch off heating. So, no. Geoff Roberts
  • Score: 5

8:00am Tue 1 Jul 14

Geoff Roberts says...

I've taken a look at the Luton Borough Council project and it's clearly a waste of money.

Essentially it uses infra red, doesn't detect absolute temperatures, only relative temperatures, this means you WILL get false positives and false negatives.

Conclusion: The heat loss excuse is a desperate attempt to appease people and the use of the plane is a scandalous misuse of our money and it's an invasion of privacy.

Sack Bob Price, he's a liability.
I've taken a look at the Luton Borough Council project and it's clearly a waste of money. Essentially it uses infra red, doesn't detect absolute temperatures, only relative temperatures, this means you WILL get false positives and false negatives. Conclusion: The heat loss excuse is a desperate attempt to appease people and the use of the plane is a scandalous misuse of our money and it's an invasion of privacy. Sack Bob Price, he's a liability. Geoff Roberts
  • Score: -7

8:02am Tue 1 Jul 14

Geoff Roberts says...

...and the Luton Borough Council project my actually be a means for a private company that is in partnership with the council, to use the council to scare people into buying insulation from them.
...and the Luton Borough Council project my actually be a means for a private company that is in partnership with the council, to use the council to scare people into buying insulation from them. Geoff Roberts
  • Score: -5

8:04am Tue 1 Jul 14

mytaxes says...

How much did it cost?
How much did it cost? mytaxes
  • Score: -1

8:04am Tue 1 Jul 14

Geoff Roberts says...

Quentin Walker wrote:
Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.
You know that Apache gunships have been flying over your house and potentially watching you have sex don't you?
[quote][p][bold]Quentin Walker[/bold] wrote: Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.[/p][/quote]You know that Apache gunships have been flying over your house and potentially watching you have sex don't you? Geoff Roberts
  • Score: 1

8:06am Tue 1 Jul 14

Geoff Roberts says...

King Joke wrote:
For God's sake, they can't see anything more than the frequent leisure flights and flying lessons who regularly buzz over the city from Kidlington all through the summer months. If the 'beds in sheds' problem is as serious as they say it is then all they're doing is trying to do something about it.
right, because leisure flights are equipped with infra red camera and spent their time leisurely scanning the entire city.
[quote][p][bold]King Joke[/bold] wrote: For God's sake, they can't see anything more than the frequent leisure flights and flying lessons who regularly buzz over the city from Kidlington all through the summer months. If the 'beds in sheds' problem is as serious as they say it is then all they're doing is trying to do something about it.[/p][/quote]right, because leisure flights are equipped with infra red camera and spent their time leisurely scanning the entire city. Geoff Roberts
  • Score: -4

4:11pm Tue 1 Jul 14

locodogz says...

Geoff Roberts wrote:
Quentin Walker wrote:
Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.
You know that Apache gunships have been flying over your house and potentially watching you have sex don't you?
Not paranoid or anything then? Anyway if I'm wearing my tinfoil hat they can't see me...
[quote][p][bold]Geoff Roberts[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Quentin Walker[/bold] wrote: Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.[/p][/quote]You know that Apache gunships have been flying over your house and potentially watching you have sex don't you?[/p][/quote]Not paranoid or anything then? Anyway if I'm wearing my tinfoil hat they can't see me... locodogz
  • Score: -4

7:21pm Thu 3 Jul 14

John Lamb says...

Geoff Roberts wrote:
Quentin Walker wrote:
Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.
You know that Apache gunships have been flying over your house and potentially watching you have sex don't you?
I doubt they would be going past in those exact 30 seconds.
[quote][p][bold]Geoff Roberts[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Quentin Walker[/bold] wrote: Nothing to hide = nothing to fear.[/p][/quote]You know that Apache gunships have been flying over your house and potentially watching you have sex don't you?[/p][/quote]I doubt they would be going past in those exact 30 seconds. John Lamb
  • Score: 3

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