Smile – you’re on Scandal Camera
WARNING – THIS IS NOT SATIRE
The police chief who co-ordinates the growing network of more than 5,000 roadside cameras, which records the whereabouts of 16m vehicles, said the network was patchy and left “large gaps in coverage in various parts of the country”.
Police made the admissions as they won a FOI tribunal to keep secret the locations of the the cameras, arguing that disclosure would allow criminals to evade detection.
For the past 10 years, police chiefs have pushed the expansion of the network, saying the cameras have become one of their most valuable tools to catch criminals in investigations ranging from terrorism to children dropping litter.
The cameras, located on motorways and main roads and at airports and town centres, automatically record the number plates and fronts of cars, noting the time, date and location of the images taken.
Each camera, be it fixed on a pole, gantry or mounted in a police car, can log up to 3,600 images an hour.
The images are transmitted to a central database in Hendon, north London, which holds more than 7bn records of the movement of stretching back six years. Police hope the database will be able to record up to 50m licence plates a day.
The roads were empty when Linda Catt and her father drove their white Citroën Berlingo into London on a quiet Sunday morning. They could not have known they were being followed.
But at 7.23am on 31 July 2005, the van had passed beneath an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera in east London, triggering an alert: “Of interest to Public Order Unit, Sussex police”. Within seconds Catt, 50, and her 84-year-old father, John, were apprehended by police and searched under the Terrorism Act.
After filing a complaint, the pair, neither of whom have criminal records, discovered that four months earlier, a Sussex police officer had noticed their van “at three protest demonstrations” and decided, apparently on that basis, it should be tracked. The two anti-war campaigners were not the only law-abiding protesters being monitored on the roads.
Officers have been told they can place “markers” against the vehicles of anyone who attends demonstrations using the national ANPR data centre in Hendon, north London, which stores information on car journeys for up to five years.
A national apparatus has been created for dealing with so-called “domestic extremists”, a category of political activist that has no legal basis.
Working under the auspices of the Association of Chief Police Officers, three barely-known police units receive £9m to help monitor protesters across the country.