From The Guardian:
“Big Brother” plans to automatically hand the police details of the daily journeys of millions of motorists tracked by road pricing cameras across the country were inadvertently disclosed by the Home Office last night.
Leaked Whitehall background papers reveal that Home Office and transport ministers have clashed over plans for legislation this autumn enabling the police to get automatic “real-time” access to the bulk data from the traffic cameras now going into operation. The Home Office says the police need the data from the cameras, which can read and store every passing numberplate, “for all crime fighting purposes”.
But transport ministers warn of concerns about privacy and “the potential for adverse publicity relating to plans for local road pricing” also due to be unveiled this autumn. There are already nearly 2,000 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras in place and they are due to double as road pricing schemes are expanded across the country.
The leaked Home Office note emerged yesterday as it was announced that the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, had waived Data Protection Act safeguards to allow the bulk transfer of data from London’s congestion charge and traffic cameras to the Metropolitan police for the specific purpose of tracking potential terrorists in and around the capital. Transport for London was very reluctant to hand over the data without the home secretary issuing a special certificate exempting it from legal action from motorists worried about breach of their privacy.
“Civil rights groups and privacy campaigners may condemn this as further evidence of an encroaching ‘big brother’ approach to policing and security, particularly in light of the recent e-petition on roads pricing,” says a Home Office note on its ‘handling strategy’ for the issue in reference to the runaway success of a petition on the Downing Street website against road charging. “Conversely, there may be surprise that the data collected by the congestion charge cameras is not already used for national security purposes and may lead to criticism that the matter is yet to be resolved.”
The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, said the “unintended act of open government” had revealed the disingenuous attitude of ministers towards public fears about a creeping surveillance state: “No wonder Douglas Alexander was keen to tone down these proposals, since he must know that public resistance to a road charging scheme will go through the roof if it is based on technology which poses a threat to personal privacy. Bit by bit, vast computer databases are being made inter-operable and yet the government seems to running scared of a full and public debate.”
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: “It is one thing to ask the public for special measures to fight the grave threat of terrorism, but when that becomes a Trojan horse for mass snooping for more petty matters it only leads to a loss of trust in government.”
Hat tip: Matt “threat to democracy” Drudge