Privacy in peril: Vast network of roadside cameras pose 'very real risk' says surveillance regulator

Government’s Surveillance Commissioner warns about dangers of indiscriminate data trawling

Crime Correspondent

Members of the public face “a very real risk” to their privacy from the huge roadside surveillance network that captures millions of motorists every day, the Government’s Surveillance Commissioner has warned. In an interview with The Independent, Tony Porter urges that clear guidance be provided to ensure “innocent” people do not fall victim to roadside automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras which have been the centre of concerns over the rise of surveillance in Britain.

The regulator for Britain’s state-run security cameras has put police on notice over their use of personal data after a series of investigations into the ANPR system, which has been described by campaigners as the “biggest surveillance network that most people have never heard of”.

The use of the system is part of wider concerns over a growing “surveillance society” as Mr Porter revealed how cheap home CCTV cameras have led to a surge in snooping disputes between neighbours.

Local authorities control more than 50,000 cameras while thousands of roadside cameras collect owner information on more than 18 million car journeys every day, in a swift and unregulated expansion over the past 30 years.

Police have declined to say how many cameras are used for the ANPR system, but it has the capacity to check information on up to 50 million cars every day, and cross-check it with other police databases to trace wanted offenders.

The information, which according to police has led to important intelligence gathering and tens of thousands of arrests every year, is retained for up to two years, even when there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.

But reports into three cases that highlighted failings in the system prompted the police watchdog to warn that the scale of the system meant it was “impossible” to achieve its full potential. In April 2012, the database held almost 11.2 billion vehicle sightings.

In one case, a registered sex offender killed a young woman despite triggering eight “hits” on the system over three days, because he was wanted for arson and theft, but was not arrested.

In another case, a 16-year-old girl was killed by a police car travelling at up to 94mph, which was chasing a car that had triggered its in-car ANPR system. It transpired that the information was out of date and should have been removed from the system.

“I think there has to be very clear guidance to officers about the way in which ANPR is used and once it has been used, ensuring that data is removed or at least is updated to that effect. I think that’s crucial,” said Mr Porter, a former senior police anti-terror officer.

“There is a very real risk that if systems aren’t adhered to innocent members of the public could be put at risk of having their privacy impacted upon. I can see the value of understanding how many ANPR cameras there are. There are other concerns that have been expressed … the large data-grab of information and the period of retention of that information.”

The Commissioner currently has regulatory power only over state-controlled cameras in public places – and has no power of compliance, leading campaigners to complain that the position is toothless. Emma Carr, the deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: “If we are going to bring proper accountability to CCTV and ANPR the Commissioner needs proper powers to enforce the law. Without them his words, however sensible, will continue to fall on deaf ears.”

High street electrical stores sell home-use cameras for less than £50 that promise high-quality images, a 20-metre night range, and images stored directly on a video recorder.

Planning permission is not needed, and a new code to regulate the use of cameras by police and local authorities does not apply to homeowners. The affordability of the camera technology and the inability of authorities to take action have led to long-running disputes between neighbours, in some cases with cameras lined up along their boundaries.

“I’ve got a great deal of sympathy for anybody who feels that their own private space is being invaded by the use of a CCTV camera employed by a neighbour,” said Mr Porter.

“Police have harassment legislation and there may be some potential relief in the High Court for invasion of privacy but they are fairly complex processes for a disgruntled member of the public to go through.”

Mr Porter said he favoured working with industry rather than legislation to try to resolve some of the domestic CCTV disputes. But Ms Carr, of Big Brother Watch, said: “The glaring omission of private CCTV cameras from any regulation must be addressed by Parliament urgently.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
The Aviva Premiership trophy
rugby union All the latest from Twickenham
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood
footballDanny Higginbotham: Tim Sherwood must play game of two halves to cause major upset
News
Caber is trained to help child victims of serious crimes testify
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor