Petition to remove Winki Pop surfcam gains momentum

December 5, 2023 BY

Deakin University privacy expert Dr Monique Mann with Surfrider Foundation Surf Coast branch secretary Darren Noyes-Brown. INSET: Mr Noyes-Brown and Dr Mann. Photos: ANGUS SMITH

SURFRIDER Foundation Surf Coast Branch has teamed up with two leading Deakin University surveillance experts to call for the removal of a web camera at Bells Beach.

As part of the campaign a petition titled “Remove the Winki Pop surf cam – respect Bells Beach” has been launched and has gained over 2,500 signatures in its first fortnight.

The camera at Winki Pop is operated by surf forecast company Swellnet and is fixed to a private residence overlooking the Bells Beach Surfing Recreational Reserve.

Dr Monique Mann and Dr Ian Warren have spent the last 12 months working on a report titled “Surfveillance: Swellnet’s SurfCam at Winki Pop.

Dr Mann says the surf cam operator appears to be circumventing the rules and regulations.

“Filming at Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited without a permit. Swellnet appear to be circumventing this prohibition as the camera is fixed to a private residence on the cliffs of Jan Juc and that overlooks the reserve.”

Privacy is cited as a key concern as people are personally identifiable in the recordings on Swellnet’s website.

Surfrider Foundation Surf Coast branch secretary Darren Noyes-Brown with Deakin University privacy expert Dr Monique Mann. Photo: ANGUS SMITH

“It is important to understand that this camera is not CCTV because it is not closed circuit, it is live broadcasting to the internet constantly.

“People are not aware that the camera is there, they have not consented to being filmed, nor do they know their image is being live broadcast to the internet globally, and they are unable to opt-out or have their images removed from Swellnet’s recordings.”

Dr Mann says that this is at odds with the Australian Privacy Principles, and a report by the Victorian Reform Law Commission on surveillance in public places that recommended that people are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy when in public places.

Surfrider Foundation Surf Coast Branch Secretary Darren Noyes-Brown said the surfing reserve was better without the camera.

“We fought hard to prevent Bells becoming a tourist theme park, fought the extra carparks, the elevated platform for the WSL and other inappropriate development and every time the community has overwhelmingly said, “Leave Bells Alone”,” Mr Noyes-Brown said.

“Now, this Winki surfcam is a step too far, in the world’s first surfing reserve, a place that many hold as sacrosanct, some say it is sacred and others say it’s their happy place,” he said.

“They have barged in with this surfcam, haven’t consulted with the local community, hoping the community doesn’t push back against it.”

Read: Surf cameras operating without state consent

Swellnet responded to request for comment with an email stating, “On November 18th, Surfrider published two Facebook posts to galvanise support for their petition, however the opposite has occurred.”

“On the SURFCOAST COMMUNITY Facebook page – which has 32,000 members – every single comment from within the local community has been in support of the surfcam,” the email stated.

At the time of publishing, there were also messages supporting the petition.

Mr Noyes-Brown said that while some in the community like the camera he thought there were more that wanted it removed.

According to Mr Noyes-Brown crowds are also an issue.

“Overcrowding can lead to collisions, injuries, altercations and an unpleasant vibe in the water which no-one enjoys,” he said.

“And I don’t think it’s right to expect us to sacrifice those odd times that we head out there to find it’s relatively uncrowded and score a quiet surf, for the convenience,” he said.

Mr Noyes-Brown said he didn’t want a private company from NSW making decisions without community consultations.

Dr Mann says the camera is also at odds with the Bells Beach management plan, especially given the commercial element with revenue not being reinvested into the reserve or its management.

“Bells Beach is an area of cultural and historical significance and should be protected.”