Eye spy a number plates scandal

Spy cameras, which can track car number plates, are in the government’s firing line, following a ‘scandal’ in Birmingham.

Home secretary, Theresa May, announced she had expanded a review into the huge expansion of CCTV to include the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

The move follows uproar after the cameras were secretly installed in Birmingham neighbourhoods with large Muslim populations – using £3m of ‘counterterrorism’ cash.

A network of 150-odd ANPR cameras was planned, to track residents entering or leaving Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, under a scheme dubbed Project Champion.

A Birmingham MP has called for 200 cameras, which he says are to monitor extremists, not to be activated.

Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Hall Green, said he was going to raise the issue in the House of Commons.

Cameras have been installed in the inner city areas of Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath with some automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras put up in Kings Heath and Moseley.

The council said the cameras were to detect all crimes, including terrorism.

Mr Godsiff said not telling people where the cameras are was “unacceptable”.

Some Birmingham city councillors complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, alleging the council was deliberately misled by West Midlands police.

The police were accused of pretending the project was for run-of-the-mill crime-fighting – when, in fact, the cash came a Terrorism and Allied Matters fund, intended to ‘deter or prevent terrorism’.

Answering Home Office questions, Mrs May told MPs: “A discussion is now taking place between the local police force and local communities about automatic number plate recognition cameras in Birmingham.

“That is one reason why we intend, in looking at regulation on CCTV, to include automatic number plate recognition.”

In Opposition, the Tories attacked the revelation that more and more councils were setting up APNR cameras – apparently to spy on rubbish tips.

Up to ten councils were found to be checking if families were flouting waste rules, potentially opening the way for illegal dumpers to be hit by huge fines.

Each camera can snap up to 15 shots of a number plate on a passing vehicle, reaching up to 100 yards up the road.

The “reads” are then compared almost instantaneously against a number of databases, a system which can handle no fewer than 50 million checks every day.

More seriously, there was no public consultation over Project Champion, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, targeting a population ‘at risk’ of extremism.

The initiative had already triggered protests at Westminster, where four MPs have signed a parliamentary motion condemning it as ‘a grave infringement of civil liberties’.

The motion said 40 of the APNR cameras were officially classified as covert and were thought to be concealed in walls and trees by the side of the road.

Meanwhile, Project Champion has turned into a farce, with the £3m cameras now covered by plastic bags – to convince residents they are NOT being spied upon.

One of the first acts of the Con-Lib coalition was to announce an overhaul of the explosion in CCTV use, as part of rolling back Labour’s so-called ‘surveillance state’.

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