VIEWPOINTS: They’ve got your number

Isn’t it curious how you can stumble on through life, comfortable that everything’s all right with the world, then wake up one day and find that it isn’t.

It all started gently enough …

A problem with the Soviet-bloc block 

With a simple question at July’s ‘Malice in Blunderland’ council meeting, why had the ticket machines at Carnival Pool been changed?

The reply from the Executive. member for Highways made the point that “recent legislation has banned the use of [Automatic Number Plate Recognition] for use by local authorities in the majority of circumstances … the ANPR systems used in Carnival Pool multi-storey cannot be used anymore and we are not able to enforce using them”.

And under normal circumstances that would have been it. Until a couple of other matters cropped up soon after.

Privacy on Notice

The first was a new sign on one of the pillars just by the front doors of our local supermarket which was titled ‘Privacy Notice’.

Closer inspection revealed that: “When you use this car park, Horizon Parking Ltd collects and processes your data … and may share it with police and security services … Data is collected via Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras …”.

So that ‘Privacy Notice’ turned out to be the Orwellian opposite. Not only is a private company watching us, they’re openly declaring that they’ll be sharing our data with other people.

About that “law change”

Changes in the way Councils were allowed to use ANPR started just over five years ago when the Government issued a press release in June 2014, announcing a ban on Council use of CCTV ‘spy cars’ for on-street parking. It then took almost nine months to get the headlines into legislation via the Deregulation Act 2015 and the details issued as a ministerial directive via the Transparency Code 2015.

But it appeared that Councils were ignoring the yet-to-be-rushed-through legislation and ministerial diktat, so a junior minister sent a snottogram in September 2014 warning Councils not to use a ten-year-old parking law designed for private land.

But that press release had also announced “increasing parking transparency so councils are required to publish how income from parking charges is being used” and the code made the publication of an annual Parking Account mandatory, so I went off to find Wokingham’s.

Located at the back of an abandoned filing cabinet, in a dusty Shute End sub-basement, accessible only via a flooded corridor whose entrance was barricaded by a wall of reinforced WonkriiT – like concrete. Mostly useful, but sometimes iT doesn’t work properly – the sole Parking Account was a lonely one-page spreadsheet dated September 2017, missing much of the mandatory information.

What other Councils did

By contrast, Croydon have managed to publish their parking account every year, making it informative and freely available.

On ANPR, Carmarthenshire Council were applying for powers to use it in April 2018. In Nov 2018,  Northamptonshire Pensioners’ Forum were briefed that the council needed government permission for it.

In January this year, the Home Office published new national standards and guidelines for ANPR installations.

In April a trade publication broke the news that Police use ANPR over 10 billion times a year, while Councils have used it for circa £500M worth of penalty notices.

Four months later, the government hit back, setting national standards for audit and compliance of Police ANPR but don’t seem to have budged an inch on Council ANPR.

And the objectors?

While sales pitches to cash-strapped councils continue, there’s growing concern about the use of the technology as the government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner warned in his latest annual reportthe scale of organisations operating such systems in the public domain goes well beyond the limited range of ‘relevant authorities’ provided within the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012”.

And while one might mutter about our council installing ANPR in a public car park then ripping it out later, it’s downright questionable as to why that’s any worse than a private company being allowed to use it in a supermarket car park.

The Last Word

As we gradually wave goodbye to privacy to enjoy the ‘security’ that the state provides via Big privatised Brother, it’s evident that not only is something ‘off’ in terms of civil liberty, but that central government has put private companies’ interests ahead of local government working efficiently.

But if you’re happy for tyranny to triumph, you don’t need to do anything, it all being done for you. 

Or to you.

caveat.lector@icloud.com

Correction

Regarding the ‘Malice in Blunderland’ commentary, a reader has voiced concerns about its content and a correction is now in order.

A closer investigation of the debate via WBC’s now-published video shows that there were 18 interruptions between the mayor asking Cllr Baker “to speak on the motion” and the mayor saying “can I ask you to cease”.

It was an interrupter who was speaking and not Cllr Baker as I’d written.

I apologise unreservedly for my mis-recollection and stand red-faced on the naughty step, embarrassed at having got such a simple fact so badly wrong.

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