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Monday, July 05, 2010

Rolling back Big Brother

The influence of the Liberal Democrats on the UK Government was evident yesterday with the announcement that Home Secretary, Theresa May, has ordered that a national police camera network that logs more than 10 million movements of motorists every day be placed under statutory regulation.

The Observer says that her decision means that a "Big Brother" police database that currently holds a mammoth 7.6 billion records of the movement of motorists using more than 4,000 cameras across the country will have to be operated with proper accountability and safeguards:

Each entry on the database includes the numberplate, location, date, time and a photograph of the front of the car, which may include images of the driver and any passengers. These details are routinely held for two years.

The options being looked at by the Home Office for regulating the system, known as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), include establishing a lawful right for the police to collect and retain such details as well as defining who can gain access to the database and placing a legal limit on the period information can be stored for.

Regulation is also expected to require the police to be more open with the public over the number and locations of cameras, with exceptions made for legally authorised covert police operations.

The current situation is unique in Europe and although these cameras assist in combatting crime the uncontrolled growth in their installation around the country does raise a number of concerns. Privacy campaigners believe that it amounts to the routine surveillance of millions of innocent motorists. Better accountability and transparency is therefore welcome.


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