UK Police's 'Ring Of Steel' Spying On Every Car Entering And Leaving Town Ruled Disproportionate

from the what-about-the-digital-ring-of-steel? dept

The UK is famous for its abundant CCTV cameras, but it's also pretty keen on the equally intrusive Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras that can identify cars and hence their owners as they pass. Here, for example, is what's been going on in the town of Royston, whose local police force has just had its knuckles rapped by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for the over-enthusiastic deployment of such ANPR systems there:

The use of these cameras has effectively made it impossible for anyone to drive their car in and out of Royston without a record being kept of the journey. The scheme is regularly referred to as 'the ring of steel'.

Following a joint complaint about the scheme from the privacy groups Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and No CCTV, the ICO began an investigation to see whether the use of the cameras was justifiable and complied with the Data Protection Act. The ICO found that the constabulary failed to carry out any effective impact assessments before introducing the system of cameras. As a result it has not been able to give a satisfactory explanation to justify their use.

The ICO has now ruled that the collection of the information is unlawful -- breaching principle one of the [Data Protection] Act -- and excessive -- breaching principle three. Hertfordshire Constabulary has been issued with an enforcement notice ordering the force to stop processing people's information in this way, unless they can justify the ANPR cameras use by way of a proper privacy impact assessment, or similar such assessment.
This decision is welcome not just because it orders this disproportionate scheme to be halted, but also because it lays down a general principle of proportionality for surveillance. That's particularly interesting in the context of the revelations that all the UK's communications are being scooped up by GCHQ, the local version of the NSA. That other "ring of steel" hardly seems proportionate either, so the obvious question is whether it might be challenged on the same grounds mentioned in the enforcement notice from the ICO (pdf):
In particular, the Commissioner is mindful of the provisions of Article 8 of the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights] in that licensed vehicle keepers have the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence which has been unlawfully interfered with [by the police in Royston in this case].
Article 8 of the ECHR is as follows:
Article 8 -- Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
It's true there is the get-out clause "except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security". But equally there is the important word "necessary": is it really absolutely necessary that every single communication going into and out of the UK be spied upon for national security? It might be a question worth asking the European Court of Human Rights....

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  1.  
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    Jake, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 6:23pm

    You know the sad thing? I bet if you asked whichever senior cop was responsible for this "ring of steel" why they were recording the date and time that every single vehicle entered or left Royston, they honestly didn't know. Maybe they didn't even know it was being stored in the first place, and it all just ended up stored on the server because nobody knew what it was and everybody thought it was someone else's.

    There's something depressingly British about the notion of a grim dystopian surveillance state that just sort of happened, without anyone consciously willing it into being or indeed even noticing it was developing until it was too late.

     

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  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 6:34pm

    What about all the others? And the million or so CCTV in London?

    This is one of those utterly trivial "victories" that at best stall off real upheaval, while surveillance everywhere continues to grow fast as possible. -- It's an anomaly, has NO wider application.

    So, minion, what's your purpose here? Some hope that the near total surveillance state is on verge of being rolled back?

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 6:57pm

    Re: What about all the others? And the million or so CCTV in London?

    It has a lot of potential for further application. What if you cannot get from you house to a particular store without getting registered? What if they are temporarily closing off the only roads out of an area - without getting registered - for maintenance? What if a road ends blindly? This will at least make it necessary for the police to think about how to place surveillance since they will end up getting smacked down if an area is unaccessable without getting recorded.

    It is no showstopper for the intrusion, but it is at least putting up some limited protection of privacy.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 7:36pm

    Can't even walk outside my door anymore, without a street camera zooming in on me. Running facial recognition and logging my location in a database somewhere. Sheesh!

     

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  5.  
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    Andrew Norton (profile), Jul 26th, 2013 @ 7:37pm

    Re:

    Not somewhere, Hendon

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 11:21pm

    Article 8 -- Right to respect for private and family life

    1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

    2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

    Part two basically destroys part one.

    The US Constitution Bill Of Rights is written in clear concise language. Yet it gets abused by government every minute.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 12:39am

    Surely the easiest way to get around this is to simply designate the area congestion controlled, like central London, and then they can freely monitor every single car coming in and out, and also charge motorists for the privilege.

     

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  8.  
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    Claire Rand, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 4:29am

    1984

    People keep mentioning 1984, actually living here it is *much* closer to Brazil.

    Having been to Royston its far from the only town equiped like this, most do have a side road, perhaps two that isn't covered, but the main roads have them. Will leave it as an exercise for the reader as to which roads the plod patrol more often and can be found dozying at the roadside on.

    The idea that the plods at the top don't really understand this stuff is very easy to believe, same os the politicians regardless of colour all seem to have the same chip installed as soon as they take up the job, the attempts at controlling the net always seem to focus on pictures in principle but in practice seem very good at monitoring text etc.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 5:02am

    dont know about anyone else but it seems to me that the similarities between the goings on in the UK and the USA are so similar as to be almost identical! i know there is great friendship between the two nations, but it is getting a bit silly when just about everything that happens in one, happens in the other. it makes me wonder whether the proposed exit from the EU that will be voted on after the next General Election in the UK is a put up job so that there will be access to the EU stuff, more legally than there has been (spying!) by the USA. this 'Rule the World' attitude in the White House is pretty frightening!!

     

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  10.  
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    Cloudsplitter, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 9:44am

    Nothing is new, the problem we have, and will always have, so long as we allow governments to do these things,is that it is always easier to spy on the public, then to do useful work. Police groups, and security agencies will always fall into this trap, with out strong, open, and public leadership.
    Trying to find real villains is hard work, and they are a nasty lot when messed with, spying on the church social, the clean air people, tree huggers and the like, is just so much easier, but it does not one thing to enhance real world public security, in fact it diminishes it. No matter how good your computer spying is, human eye balls at some point must assess the data for usefulness, the more garbage data you have to look at, the less you will see. As to the public purse, this is the second largest welfare program in the country next to the bloated pentagon.

     

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  11.  
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    Cloudsplitter, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 10:15am

    Re:

    Time to engage in anonymous Luddite- ism, of the great political theater kind, Guy Fawkes mask required. The camera systems exist, because you let it, map it, and tare it a part. Crowd Source a camera bash, call it Freedom to Walk Unviewed Every Day. The beauty of it, is that you don't have to touch a thing, once people get the idea in their heads, that they can effect the system, the system will start to fall under its own weight of repairs, call it Disruptive Freedom Fighting, the Sabot, The Caltrop. To Kill a Bloated System, Increase its Cost of Operation.

     

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  12.  
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    DP, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 11:43am

    A beginning?

    I suppose it's one small step in the right direction but these cameras appear everywhere, apparently without oversight or (it would seem) any shred of public consultation. The did just that in my home town a few years ago. They are on every major approach road to the town centre and just materialised from nowhere with no announcements or any indication about what they actually did but we're all pretty sure they're ANPR based. Wonder if there's now a basis for a challenge?

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2013 @ 12:47am

    Re:

    This ring of steel exists around lots of towns in the UK and all about London. To be honest it is a good tool for the police but they obviously need to know where to draw the line between now and 1984.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jul 29th, 2013 @ 8:06am

    It boils down to what data they keep and for how long. The technology itself may be beneficial. It's the way it's used that's the problem. Considering the Govts tend to ever increase surveillance and stiff I think that such devices may as well be banned.

     

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  15.  
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    Kolonpar vinetu, Nov 29th, 2013 @ 7:34pm

    serious

    Sorry to talk like this but the motherfuckers wtching us and they want us to be a slave.

     

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