7/18/2007UK Congestion Charge a Trojan Horse for Spying
Accidentally released documents show the UK government intends to use congestion charging cameras to track innocent motorists.
Motorists who have done nothing wrong will find their every movements recorded in a police database by closed circuit TV cameras installed to enforce so-called "congestion charges" in the UK. London papers today caught an inadvertent mention in a recently released Home Office document of the Labour government's formerly secret plan to use a nationwide congestion taxing program to collect blanket surveillance data on all motorists.
"With this unintended act of open government, the disingenuous attitude of ministers towards public fears about a creeping surveillance state is revealed for all to see," Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Nick Clegg told the London Evening Standard newspaper. "The government appears to be using the London cameras as a Trojan Horse to secure unprecedented access to information on car drivers' movements without full public scrutiny or debate."
A legislative proposal has been prepared that would give any police officer "bulk access" to records that would include at least six years of movement data on everyone caught on camera, not just in London but everywhere in the UK. Anyone recorded as driving in "convoy" with a known criminal would become an automatic suspect.
The Evening Standard quotes the document describing the plan as, "an immediate solution pending the introduction of planned government agreement on proposed legislation which would allow the bulk transfer of automatic number plate recognition data from third parties to the police for all crime-fighting purposes."
Already, London privacy experts have documented the mission creep with the city's congestion charging cameras. Although there is no charge to enter downtown London on weekends and late at night, the cameras are still recording data 24 hours a day.
Transport for London told MayorWatch that it was "fully prepared to support the Metropolitan Police's request for routine access to data from London's congestion charging camera system for national security purposes."
Safe Speed founder Paul Smith pointed out that the revelations contradict earlier statements regarding the purpose of congestion charges.
"For months the Department for Transport has been trying to convince us that they are not trying to build a 'spy network' with road pricing technology," Smith said. "Then along come the police and prove, at a stroke, that it was all lies."