17:38 Wednesday 24th July 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: A police operation which secretly records the details of every car travelling into Royston has been called unlawful by the Office of the Information Commissioner. The automatic number plate recognition scheme called “The Ring of Steel” by Hertfordshire Police was set up in 2011, but after complaints from privacy campaigners, it was reported to the IOC. Political reporter Paul Scoines has been in Royston this afternoon. (TAPE)
PAUL SCOINES: It was two years ago that seven cameras were put into the town of Royston, really just to monitor every single road in and out of the town (using) automatic number recognition cameras, ANPR otherwise. And that would send alerts to Herts Police if any untaxed uninsured or perhaps a vehicle carrying anybody who was a suspect in a crime went through as well. It was known locally as “The Ring of Steel”. And at the time, Oliver Heald who’s the local MP for this part of the world said that he didn’t want to sleepwalk into a survillance society, but in a town like Royston which he said was a regional hub, and had a number of people passing through it, there was a case for doing it. And it was only earlier this year that the Information Commissioner Office, acting on a request from three civil liberties groups, actually looked into it. I’ve been in Royston today, asking people of the town what they thought about the cameras. (VOXPOP)
PUBLIC ONE: Well I think it’s a bit ridiculous using us as a guinea pig system here. You’d make the news here, the local news, if you stole a penny chew from the local sweet shop here, so I think it’s a bit crazy to be honest.
PUBLIC TWO: I think it does invade your privacy, doesn’t it, by them checking on everything. I come in here regularly. I thought they were there to catch criminals and such, not interfere in our private lives.
CHRIS MANN: What’s been the reaction of the police to this ruling?
PAUL SCOINES: The police have said that the enforcement notice that the Information Commissioner has served on them is unnecessary. They said they were already working towards resolving any concerns. They say that considerable analysis has already been done on the use of ANPR cameras. They do however say that they welcome the Information Commissioner’s guidance, and they accept the decision. However the constabulary says that it intends to continue using ANPR but will make sure this time that the deployment is entirely justified.
CHRIS MANN: And have they been able to point to any positives that this so-called Ring of Steel has brought to Royston since it’s been in?
PAUL SCOINES: Well they say that they have used it as a very effective tool in cutting crime. They say they have picked up several criminals who’ve been in cars which have been untaxed and also then gone on to do a search of the car and found drugs in one instance. They’ve found people who have not had their cars insured as well. They say tackling that level of crime, perhaps, sometimes that level of crime which we don’t see as the general public, has actually had a very strong impact on reducing crime in the area as well. What the Information Commissioner said was that it was impossible as a resident of Royston or a visitor to Royston to drive in and out of the town without their being a record of your journey. I don’t really think that the Information Commissioner thought that the premise of ANPR is wrong. But what they said is that the police had failed to carry out any impact assessment really just to justify, to give a satisfactory explanation as to why they were going to use it. And that is obviously something that the police have told us they are going to deal with. We’ve heard from some of the people who live here they’re not really so bothered about the idea of being watched all the time, so long as it’s not something more sinister than just trying to catch criminals.
CHRIS MANN: Paul Scoines in Royston, thank you so much for joining us.