On 27th January 2015 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, signed an order that increased the data collected by the police’s network of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras in the capital by 300%. At the time no-one seems to have noticed. One year on the sound of silence is still deafening.
Johnson achieved this massive increase of blanket surveillance in London without erecting a single new camera. Instead he allowed the police to share Transport for London’s (TfL) network of around 1400 ANPR cameras used for the London Congestion Charge, the Low Emission Zone and other traffic monitoring. This was a policy tucked away in Johnson’s 2012 mayoral crime manifesto.
Since 2007 the Metropolitan Police Service has controversially been allowed limited access to TfL’s congestion charge cameras for “national security” purposes only. The new camera sharing arrangement allows the police “general access” to an expanded raft of number plate cameras.
The mayor used powers given to him by the Greater London Authority Act whereby he can do anything that he considers will further one or more of the Authority’s principle purposes. In the case of expanding police use of automatic checkpoint cameras he decided that it will “further the promotion of social development in Greater London”. Quite how Johnson came to this conclusion is a mystery, as is the way in which he was so easily able to trade the freedoms of so many car drivers in London by simply issuing a mayoral decison.
In his 1929 book ‘The New Despotism‘ then Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Hewart coined the phrase “Administrative Lawlessness” to describe a worrying trend in English politics at that time – the exercise of arbitrary power, where decisions are made in the shadows, not based on evidence and without proper debate. Hewart wrote:
Arbitrary power is certain in the long run to become despotism, and there is danger, if the so-called method of administrative “law”, which is essentially lawlessness, is greatly extended, of the loss of those hardly won liberties which it has taken centuries to establish.
Johnson and the police claim that the people of London were consulted, via an 8 week “consultation”. However there were just 2,315 responses to the online survey out of an estimated population in Greater London of over 8 million people .
Meanwhile the Metropolitan police responded to what they described as “concerns about the level of surveillance in the capital, data security and misuse” by stating that they are convinced that:
the majority of the public will remain satisfied that this does not represent undue or unnecessary surveillance.
The important thing to the police, then, is not whether the policy is an illiberal assault on individual freedoms and liberties, but rather that most people will not understand or know what is going on, .
No CCTV has repeatedly warned that the UK police’s ANPR camera network is the biggest mass surveillance network that no-one’s ever heard of. We have laid out many of our concerns in our report ‘What’s wrong with ANPR?‘. Police store the details of all cars that pass ANPR cameras in a central database for a minimum of two years. There are currently discussions within the police to extend this to seven years.
Whilst the mainstream media have all but ignored this massive expansion of the surveillance state it is worth pointing out that writer and artist James Bridle made a series of Freedom of Information requests in 2013/14 that reveal much of the disturbing progression of this policy.
For more info see www.no-cctv.org.uk
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