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.”



  1. Shalini Gupta
    15th April 2014

    Commend report today on Councils’ use of CCTV to raise money through parking fines & hidden cameras without being forced to divulge statistics. We citizens must lobby for total transparency and accountability about tge legitimacy of methods used to raise such vast revenues and how these revenues are used. It is totally unacceptable in a democracy that citizens lack the right to get their ejected officials to release such information. Also, why can this money not be used by Councils to add to badly needed social housing through renovations and new builds

  2. Stephen Morris
    15th April 2014

    Thank you for this website and the issues you are raising. However I am sure that it will be frustrated and ignored. The only way to stop these cameras is to take them down. Local government will spend millions on PR to persuade government and media that these cameras are ‘good for you’. Government will only legislate against them when people actually strip them down off the streets.
    Sorry BBwatch… are spitting into the wind on this one…

  3. Dave
    15th April 2014

    Seeing the picture in your article leads me to raise a couple of points.

    1. Is there adequate warning signage in all the areas in which these vehicles operate to comply with law?

    2. There are privacy issues brought into question by the height at which the camera is mounted as it enables filming over peoples’ walls into their homes and private property.

    Surveillance in the UK has really got out of control. It is time that the STASI officialdom in this country are reigned in or better still, closed down altogether. This country is supposed to be a free democracy not a police state. The vested interests of the security industry also need to be firmly held in check.

  4. Patsy
    15th April 2014

    I don’t think your understanding of RIPA is detailed enough. There is no way a council can obtain a RIPA authorisation for giving out traffic offence tickets. To get a RIPA now, Councils have to get Magistrate approval when they can demonstrate that the criminal offence is enough to warrant a 6 month jail term. A traffic ticket is a civil offence not criminal. RIPAs could never be acquired for issuing traffic tickets. (There is also a misconception that you HAVE to get a RIPA, you don’t, but it protects you aganst breach of Article 8 complaints later, but that’s a whole different ball game) I suggest BigBrotherWatch get some training on it as this article really does imply you don’t really understand it.

    • Anonymous
      20th April 2014

      I wish it was true, but how can it be, when RIPA has been abused for dog fouling and school catchment zone offenses, both which do not carry a prison term over 6 months.

      Unless RIPA has recently been reformed since then of course, if not, it still is a wild west for council RIPA abuse.

  5. Michael Potter
    15th April 2014

    The Council’s say that the CCTV Cars are only used for safety and Not for raising cash which is a load of lies.

    As a Licenced PCO Driver I was outside 20 Old Bailey to collect a client at 20.45 p.m. there wasn’t any traffic or pedestrians and I wan’t causing an obstruction.

    I saw the camera car pull up the road behind me do a u turn and drive off. I knew he had issued a ticket but as I was actually there picking up a client so I assumed I could appeal.

    Well I appealed and they rejected it saying that I can only stop for the amount of time it takes for the passenger to get into the car.

    So basically they have to be waiting on the side of the kerb so they can jump in immediately. Nice if it’s pouring with rain.

    Of course now I am faced with the problem of appealing again and if that fails the fine goes up to £120 they know this so now I have to fork out 65 quid and times are tough. This isn’t fair.

    City Of London are using these CCTV cars to just raise cash.

    The sooner they are banned the better.

    But I fear unless there is major demonstrations nothing will happen.

    • Brian Rose
      20th April 2014

      Michael, I’m also a licensed PCO driver and I (and lots of other drivers) have fallen foul of what you wrote about. I am aiming to produce a website for drivers so that we can collectively unite and fight back against the injustice. If you would like to contact me on I’ll keep you in the loop.

  6. barrie singleton
    17th April 2014

    Bus lane ANPR Council scams run parallel to parking scams. Newbury have ‘charged’ (not fined) 10,500+ so far. In setting up the entrapment they made more errors that they got right (advisedly) but the D for T empower councils with NO FURTHER MONITORING nor responsibility. As usual, WE suffer under tyrannical Trickle Down from corrupt Westminster.

  7. Milkins
    17th April 2014


    > Sorry BBwatch… are spitting into the wind on this one…

    Not only on this one, sadly.

  8. Lezen op zaterdag »
    18th April 2014

    […] Big Brother Watch: Traffic spies – a £300m surveillance industry […]

  9. Eric Toni
    8th May 2014

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. October this year marks the abolition of the traditional Road Tax Disc. From then your vehicle will be routinely scanned on every journey enabling your every movement to monitored. New unmarked cameras have been installed on the M25. There are also plans to abolish Toll Booths on Dartford crossing and using ANPR cameras instead.

  10. Eric Toni
    8th May 2014

    I am also concerned about the Department of Transport selling driver details to Private Enforcement companies who issue so called penalties for parking on private land. These same companies are the same ones who were clamping on private land, which is now illegal

  11. Steve Core
    18th June 2014

    A friend was recently conducting his business in an area of the city (Plymouth) where there is a higher than average amount of anti-social and criminal behaviour.
    After concluding his business and leaving the area, he was followed by a police car, who flagged him to stop in a bus lane. He duly pulled over, and provided proof of his legal business to the officers, who thanked him for his assistance and allowed him to drive away without further comment. However, during the conversation, a camera car took photos of his vehicle, and later hit him with a fine! Apparently the police officers involved also saw the camera car, but said that it was not in their power to do anything, and that he would have to appeal the fine.
    Needless to say, the council ignored his explanation, and he ended up having to pay the fine!
    I need not submit my comment, and, for reasons of politeness, will not repeat his observation of the process!