Royston ANPR cameras deemed unlawful

ANPR camera along Melbourn Road in Royston.

ANPR camera along Melbourn Road in Royston. - Credit: Daniel Wilson

THE use of roadside cameras introduced by police two years ago have been deemed unlawful by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

An enforcement notice has been issued by the ICO demanding the cameras in Royston be reviewed.

It said: “The commissioner is of the view that the data controller has contravened the First Data Protection Principle by processing personal data unlawfully.”

The infamous “ring of steel” in Royston consists of seven ANPR cameras in six different locations.

They track the licence plate of every vehicle to pass through the town using fibre optic lenses to produce high definition images of number plates, which help police create ‘hot lists’ to track the movements of suspicious vehicles across the country.

The ICO began an investigation to find out whether the use of the cameras was justifiable and complied with the Data Protection Act, following a joint complaint about the scheme from privacy campaign groups No CCTV, Big Brother Watch and Privacy International.

Charles Farrier, co-founder of No CCTV, said: “This is a landmark decision. The ICO has validated our view that blanket vehicle tracking should have no place in a democratic society.

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“This camera network amounts to an automated checkpoint system that is the stuff of totalitarianism.”

The ruling comes just two years after an ANPR spokesman assured residents the system was “entirely lawful”.

ICO’s head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley said: “The use of ANPR cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address.

“After detailed enquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn’t the case in Royston.

“We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully justified before they are installed.”

The scheme was a joint venture between Hertfordshire Police, North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) and regeneration company Royston First, who all contributed funds towards the technology.

A Herts Police spokesman said the force would continue to use the cameras, but would be ensuring such use was “fully justified”.

He added: “The Constabulary’s belief is that an enforcement notice was not necessary in this instance – not because we reject the Commissioner’s concerns, but because we are already working towards remedying them. We have already undertaken considerable analysis of the justification for the use of these cameras in Royston and we have welcomed the Commissioner’s offer of further advice on strengthening our privacy impact assessments.

“The constabulary takes very seriously its obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We share the ICO’s view that ANPR cameras should be used only on justifiable grounds.

“The constabulary intends to continue using ANPR cameras, which deliver very substantial policing benefits, but also to ensure that its particular deployment of such cameras is – and is seen to be – fully justified. We look forward to working with the Commissioner to achieve those objectives.”