TRAFFIC wardens are being equipped with CCTV-style body cameras in a bid to stop them being attacked by angry motorists.
Following a rise in verbal and physical attacks, councils across Hampshire are issuing the recording devices to wardens.
The camera can be fitted in a credit card-sized identity badge or into the lapel of a uniform.
When the camera is in use, a sticker on the badge or uniform saying either ‘CCTV in operation’ or ‘recording in progress’ is displayed.
Winchester City Council, the latest authority to sign up to the technology, said cameras are needed to protect wardens from assault.
But civil liberty campaigners warned the move was a worrying expansion of the Big Brother surveillance state and could be open to abuse.
The council is paying £500 for video badges for each of its 13 traffic wardens. Eastleigh Borough Coun-cil has already equipped its 11 traffic wardens with video badges.
Council chiefs say wardens, or civil enforcement officers as they are officially called, will only switch on the badges if they believe confrontation with a motorist is likely. The video and audio tape can then be used as evidence in court or if there is a complaint.
Nick Pickles, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “This kind of policy treats every member of the public as a suspect, and a small badge is hardly properly notifying someone they are being recorded.
“The Information Commissioner is very clear that recording should only be used in extreme circumstances, so it is absolutely essential that if conversations are being recorded this scheme is vigorously overseen and the law enforced to protect the public from over-zealous use.”
A Winchester City Council spokesman denied there was any subterfuge.
He said: “It isn’t covert. It is for the officer’s personal safety if a difficult situation arises. If the camera is switched on it clearly shows that a recording is in progress.”
A council report said there had been “a number of aggressive incidents” involving wardens in the past 12 months.
Last month the Daily Echo reported how wardens were threatened by motorists who had been handed parking tickets in Bishop’s Waltham. The abuse became so bad the local beat bobby accompanied them on patrol.
Business development manager Andy Burke, of Edesix, which makes the video badges, said the purpose of the camera was to clearly display it, to stop an assault occurring.
He said a number of police forces and local authorities were buying the technology.