May orders tighter regulation of CCTV network

The national police camera network which records motorists' movements is to come under tighter regulation, the Home Office said today.

Home Secretary Theresa May ordered that the surveillance system should be placed under statutory regulation.

The 4,000-strong automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) network logs more than 10 million motorists' movements every day and holds 7.6 billion records of them.

These are held on a database, which includes the number plate, place, date, time and a picture of the front of the car.

This can include images of the driver and any passengers, and the data can be held for two years.

The change being introduced by Mrs May will mean proper accountability and safeguards in the use of this database will be introduced.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the move was necessary for public confidence.

He told The Guardian: "Both CCTV and ANPR can be essential tools in combating crime but the growth in their use has been outside of a suitable governance regime.

"To ensure that these important technologies continue to command the support and confidence of the public and are used effectively, we believe that further regulation is required.

"We are examining a number of options and will also be considering the work of the interim CCTV regulator, who is due to report to ministers shortly."

The Government is considering limiting who can access the database and for how long data can be held.

It is also looking at introducing a lawful right for police forces to log the information and greater transparency over where the cameras are.

Privacy campaigners said restrictions on the ANPR network were long overdue.

Big Brother Watch branded it "an unnecessary and indiscriminate invasion of privacy".

Campaign director Dylan Sharpe said: "A detailed review is not only vitally important, it is long overdue.

"ANPR gives the state the ability to track every car journey we make. It is about time that some restrictions were placed on the use of this intrusive technology."

The system was rolled out in 2006 to track uninsured drivers and stolen cars.

The cameras work by scanning number plates and checking them against information stored in various databases to identify vehicles of interest to the police.

An ANPR camera can read a number plate every second.

Police say use of the cameras led to the arrest of burglars, robbers and drug dealers, among others, and that they target criminals and not innocent law-abiding motorists.

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