Road camera ‘spy’ fear

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DATA on millions of vehicle movements, recorded by 100 automatic number plate recognition cameras on Sheffield’s roads, is to be discussed by the council’s cabinet today amid concern about the impact on civil liberties and drivers’ privacy.

A report to a meeting of Sheffield Council’s cabinet this afternoon asks members to decide on a policy for how the information, collected from more than 100 locations on the city’s road network, should be used in the future.

It follows concern by the Government Information Commissioner’s Office that retention of full data from the cameras - which record vehicle registration numbers and images of vehicles and their occupants - could be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

Peter Bull, of the council highways department, said: “The system is providing valuable information to aid network management and help Sheffield people travel through the city. It is also helping the police in the investigation and reduction of crime.

“Some councillors and members of the public are concerned data recorded by the system could be used to invade public privacy and civil liberties.”

Mr Bull proposes deleting data about individual vehicles within 24 hours and changing the system to stop council staff gaining access to information which would identify a vehicle.

His report sets out three options. The first is deleting ANPR camera data straight after journey times have been calculated for council records.

The second is retaining data for two years with “strong safeguards” for journey pattern analysis and to aid police investigations. The third is retaining the data “in a form which prevents identification of any vehicle”.

Mr Bull said the third option would allow the council to carry out journey pattern analysis but could cause “limitations” to police investigations.

There are 200 ANPR cameras in South Yorkshire half of them are in Sheffield.

As well as helping the police find vehicles which are uninsured or involved in crime, Mr Bull said it is estimated data provided by the cameras on traffic flows and journeys saves the council “tens of thousands of pounds” on traffic surveys.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it would not be taking action against Sheffield Council provided it takes steps to “mitigate the possibility of information from ANPR cameras being linked to identify individuals.”