Monday, September 15, 2008

Police cameras to track 50million cars a DAY - and keep details for up to five years

Police intend to map millions of car journeys and keep them on a national database for five years.

Roadside cameras across the country will capture the exact movements of 50million licence plates every day.

Officers have been encouraged to 'fully and strategically exploit' the database to reconstruct the whereabouts of drivers despite growing concerns from civil rights groups.

But questions will be raised about the length of time details are being kept on file and the apparent lack of guidance about who might be allowed access to the information.

The operation uses automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to 'read' the time and location of all vehicles on the road.

Thousands of CCTV cameras across the country have been converted to read ANPR data, capturing people's movements in cars on motorways, main roads, airports and town centres.

Last night a spokesman for The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said they understood that under current guidelines the data could only be kept for two years.

But responding to inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act, the Home Office has reportedly admitted the data is now being kept for five years.

Local authorities have since adapted their own CCTV systems to capture licence plates on behalf of police, massively expanding the network of available cameras.

Mobile cameras have been installed in patrol cars and unmarked vehicles parked by the side of roads.

Police helicopters have been equipped with infrared cameras that can read licence plates from 610 metres (2,000ft).

In four months' time, when a nationwide network of cameras is fully operational, the National ANPR Data Centre in Hendon, north London, will record up to 50million licence plates a day.

Human rights group Privacy International last night described the five-year record of people's car journeys 'unnecessary and disproportionate', and said it had lodged an official complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the government's data watchdog.

In a statement, the ICO said it would take the complaint 'seriously' and would be contacting police 'to discuss proposed data retention periods'.

Senior police officers have said they intend the database to be integrated into 'mainstream policing'.

The director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, said last night the database would give police 'extraordinary powers of surveillance'.

'This would never be allowed in any other democratic country,' he said. 'This is possibly one of the most valuable reserves of data imaginable.'

Meanwhile, it also emerged that motorists could be charged for all journeys under tests that are being carried out by potential Government contractors.

Companies bidding to run the pay-as-you-go driving schemes have been asked to come up with a system to impose a minimum charge on motorists.

The charges would be imposed at all times and not just on the busiest roads or during rush hours.

In the tender document, it encourages companies to test technology for a pay-as-you-go scheme that could be applied nationwide.

It means that minimum travel charges, short distance fees and higher costs for driving on busier roads could be imposed on some areas.

A Department for Transport spokesman said the trials were being carried out for local schemes and denied national charging would be introduced.

He said: 'We have been absolutely clear that these trials - which we announced last year and updated Parliament on in July - are about designing effective local schemes.

'They do not mean that national road pricing is going ahead.'


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