Government signals end to CCTV use for parking fines

Image20If CCTV cameras are about public protection, why are they bringing in £300m in revenue from parking enforcement?

Firstly – and this goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never, ever told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behavior and catching criminals. Would the public be as willing to accept yet more cameras if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?

If anyone can find us an example of a council justifying it’s need for greater CCTV on parking problems we’d love to hear about it.

Back in 2010 we reported on the rise of Drive By Spieswith 31 councils operating CCTV cars at the time. That number has now risen to more than 100.

That’s why, with every report we have published in recent years on CCTV, as well as our submissions to the consultation on the CCTV Code of Practice, we have argued for councils, indeed all CCTV operators, to publish statistics on how cameras are used. How many arrests? How many convictions? What offences are caught? If the public had the facts, maybe the Government wouldn’t need to act because people would express their views at the ballot box.

In the absence of such transparency, or any public arguments from councils that this is an essential part of CCTV use, we wholeheartedly support the Government’s plan to stop councils using CCTV for parking enforcement.

Equally, the move to allow compensation to be awarded where unreasonable tickets have been issued should help to restore some common sense to the system.
This is important because there’s the obvious question about whether the fines are all issued because someone is causing an actual obstruction, or if they are simply contravening a strict interpretation of the rules. In recent months we’ve had people contact us with tickets issued from CCTV where the footage shows they weren’t stationary long enough for another vehicle to even to come into shot, while another driver was issued with a box junction infringement ticket for being stationary for two whole seconds.

This isn’t just a question of money either. The legal basis for some types of CCTV being used as parking enforcement has long been dubious. If someone is using a camera to scan a street, then zooms in on an individual with the intent of monitoring them and potentially issuing a ticket, there are obvious questions about whether that constitues directed surveillance, therefore requiring a magistrate’s warrant under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Equally, if a camera has been installed for the purposes of ‘the prevention and detection of crime’ then is it legally acceptable for the data to be re-used for the purpose of traffic enforcement?

Ultimately, CCTV is never, ever going to solve the fundamental problem of there not being enough parking in town centres, and using cameras intended to catch criminals to issue parking tickets only undermines public trust in the surveillance they’ve been told to accept to protect their own safety, not to fill council coffers and justify expensive CCTV systems.