Traffic Spies – a £300m surveillance industry

Image20Today we have published our latest report, Traffic Spies, highlighting how hundreds of councils have turned to static CCTV cameras and spy cars to raise £312m in revenue.

Many councils are continuing to use CCTV to hand out fines, despite the government publishing a Surveillance Camera Code of Practice highlighting the need to use CCTV for traffic offences “sparingly”, this research highlights that the number of CCTV cars in operation in the UK has increased by 87% since 2009.

The question must therefore be asked, if CCTV cameras are about public safety, why are local authorities able to use them to raise revenue? Furthermore, why are local authorities publishing no meaningful information about their use of CCTV for parking enforcement?

In reaction, the Government recently announced plans to ban the use of CCTV spy cars by councils, which has not gone down well with certain groups. However, the figures in the report make it clear that the fact councils fail to proactively publish proper statistics about how these cameras are being used, would suggest that CCTV operation is about raising money, not about public safety.

This report outlines the clear case for a ban on the use of CCTV cameras and CCTV cars for traffic enforcement. Serious problems should be tackled by the police and traffic wardens, not unfocussed and revenue-led surveillance.

Our report also highlights that drivers in the Capital have been the hardest hit by this use of CCTV, with 90% of the revenue raised being collected by London Boroughs.

The report also highlights that some tickets may be potentially illegal, in circumstances where they have been issued by a traffic warden in a CCTV control room without the proper legal process being followed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 for directed surveillance. The Government should urgently investigate whether or not the use of cameras to snoop on motorists breaches surveillance laws, particularly where a traffic warden sits in a control room looking for motorists to ticket.

In response to our report, Brandon Lewis, Minister for Local Government, said: “I welcome this expose by Big Brother Watch. It is clear that CCTV is being used to raise money in industrial volumes for town halls, breaking the constitutional principle that fines should not be used as a source of revenue.  Unreasonable parking charges and fines push up hard-working people’s cost of living. If parking is too expensive or difficult, shoppers will drive to out of town supermarkets or just shop online, undermining the vitality of town centres and leading to ‘ghost town’ high streets. 

“That’s why the Government intends to clampdown on this clear abuse and misuse of parking CCTV. The public want to see CCTV being used to catch criminals not to persecute shoppers and hard-working people.”

Nick de Bois, Member of Parliament for Enfield North, who wrote the report’s forward, said: “I welcome this research by Big Brother Watch, which highlights that many hard-pressed drivers are unfairly being hit with arbitrary fines. CCTV should only ever be used in exceptional circumstances, and therefore I agree with the government that local authority use of CCTV for parking enforcement should be banned.”