Just in case you thought that Spy Blog has not tried the available, alleged "checks and balances" which are supposed to prevent the disproportionate abuse of our privacy and freedoms, you might be interested in our brief correspondence with the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, regarding the function creep of what were supposed to have been "save the environment" schemes: the London Congestion Charge and the London Low Emission Zone, but which have now mutated into a secretive, unaccountable, mass surveillance snooping scheme.
Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Rose
Chief Surveillance Commissioner
Office of Surveillance Commissioners
PO Box 29105,
London, SW1V 1ZU
Copy via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
20th September 2007
Dear Sir Christopher,
I am writing to you in respect of the current Automatic Number Plate Recognition mass surveillance scheme, which was announced by Home Office Minister Tony McNulty on 17th July 2007, involving "real time" "bulk data transfers" between the London Congestion Charge system run by Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police Service." The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Tony McNulty): I would like to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has signed a certificate to exempt Transport for London (TfL) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) from certain provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 to facilitate the bulk transfer of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data from TfL to the MPS. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police believes that it is necessary due to the enduring, vehicle-borne terrorist threat to London. The MPS requires bulk ANPR data from TfL's camera network in London specifically for terrorism intelligence purposes and to prevent and investigate such offences. The infrastructure will allow the realtime flow of data between TfL and the MPS.
As one of the conditions of this certificate, the MPS will provide an annual report to the Information Commissioner so that he can satisfy himself that the personal data processed under the certificate is required for the purposes of safeguarding national security, and that any processing that is undertaken other than under an exemption set out in the certificate is carried out in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will review the operation of the certificate in three months time when the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police provides her with a separate, interim report so that she can be personally satisfied that the certificate is being operated in accordance with the agreement and that the privacy of individuals is protected. In the coming months, proposals will be developed and discussed across Government to ensure that bulk ANPR data-sharing with the police is subject to a robust regulatory regime which ensures reasonable transparency and scrutiny."
This is obviously far more than a simple Data Protection Act section 29 Notice request for details about a particular suspect vehicle. The use of Ministerial Certificates must mean Mass Surveillance, presumably on a 24/7 basis, outside of the normal Congestion Charge enforcement period i.e. also at night, at weekends and on public holidays, to cover what would otherwise be "excessive data processing" for a purpose other than which the data was originally collected, without explicit personal consent, thereby flouting the fundamental Principles of Data Protection.
I note that there is no mention in the Ministerial Statement of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which surely must also apply to this Mass Surveillance project, especially in the light of your comments on Automatic Number Plate Recognition in your first Annual Report,"11.3 Improvements in technology continue to enhance the capability of those charged with the responsibility of tackling crime. But, as indicated in last year's report, the speed of change often surpasses the limitations of current legislation. With regard to Automatic Number Plate Recognition, my position is the same as that of my predecessor and I adhere to the view that legislation is necessary to resolve some issues arising from enhanced technological capability."
Were any of the Surveillance Commissioners consulted about this project before it was announced ?
Have you given your permission for this Mass Surveillance scheme to go ahead, which must catch vast numbers of innocent people and vehicle movements, contrary to the principle of narrowly targeted, proportionate, lawful surveillance under RIPA ?
The short reply was frustrating and depressing - we are obviously "little people", whose concerns and worries, are simply ignored by the bureaucracy and the politicians:
Office of Surveillance Commissioners
1 October 2007
Thank you for your letter of 20 September about the Automatic Number Plate Recognition mass surveillance scheme.
The Chief Surveillance Commissioner has seen your letter and asked me to reply on his behalf. He notes your interest in these matters but does not think it appropriate to answer your questions.
I am sorry I cannot be more helpful.
[name of secretary]
Secretary to the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners
Office of the Surveillance Commissioners
PO Box 29105
London, SW1V 1ZU
Telephone: 020 7828 3421
Facsimile: 020 7952 1788
How is this supposed to represent adequate or proper "independent scrutiny" of the vast powers, and function creep of secret state surveillance snooping, which is increasingly and wastefully being directed at millions of innocent people, rather than being targeted proportionately and narrowly at actual terrorist suspects or serious organised criminals ?
Is it any wonder that people are frustrated by, and resentful of, the people and systems which purport to "protect" the public, whilst maintaining their freedoms and liberties, but which do not do so in practice ?