Investigation rules that Royston’s ‘ring of steel’ is ‘unlawful’ and ‘excessive’

14:20 07 March 2014

The number of ANPR cameras in use in Royston has been reduced from seven to two

The number of ANPR cameras in use in Royston has been reduced from seven to two

Daniel Wilson

A national organisation which investigates data protection issues has ruled that Royston’s ‘ring of steel’ surveillance system is “unlawful” and “excessive” – with the number of cameras in use now “significantly reduced”.

The Information Commission Office’s (ICO) investigation into the ‘ring of steel’ – the name given for the seven automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras which monitor all traffic going in and out of Royston – has made public its ruling which has seen the number of operational cameras reduced to two.

Hertfordshire police agreed last month to switch off five of the cameras following an enforcement action issued against the force by the ICO in July 2013, although this decision has only just come to light.

A statement from the ICO said: “An investigation by our office found that the force had not undertaken any form of assessment before introducing the cameras to examine the impact on people’s privacy, or to consider whether this was a proportionate response to the problem it was trying to resolve.

“The collection of the information was therefore unlawful – breaching principle one of the Data Protection Act – and excessive – breaching principle three.”

The ICO investigation came about following a joint complaint from pressure groups, No CCTV, Big Brother Watch and Privacy International.

In a statement released today (Friday), No CCTV said: “The ICO has decided to ignore the issue of tracking people suspected of no wrong doing whatsoever and after over two and a half years of deliberation they have side-stepped the real issues at the heart of the mass surveillance ANPR camera network.”

Charles Farrier, of No CCTV, added: “We find increasingly that we live in a state in which the police or the government know more about you than you know about yourself. This is not a healthy society in which to live.

“The network of mass surveillance number plate cameras that are used in Royston and throughout the UK was constructed without any public debate. It is still the biggest surveillance network that most people have never heard of.

“The ICO might think it’s okay to turn freedoms into a game of roulette – ‘pick your route and guess whether you’re under surveillance’ – we do not. We will continue to contest these cameras that should have no place in a free country.”

A spokesman for Hertfordshire Constabulary said: “We have engaged fully with the Information Commissioner on our objectives to use ANPR cameras to deliver substantial policing benefits for Hertfordshire whilst ensuring that we fulfil our obligation that they should only be used on justifiable and proportionate grounds in line with Data Protection Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Whilst ANPR is a valuable crime fighting asset, it is just one of the many tools and tactics that Hertfordshire Constabulary use to fight crime that has helped deliver sustained crime reductions in the county over the past 10 years.”

The ring of steel was put in place in 2011, and jointly funded by the police, North Herts District Council and the Royston First Business Improvement District company.

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