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CCTV User Group calls on government to remind local authorities of traffic camera responsibilities

Updated: Dec 16, 2021


The CCTV User Group has written to the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC) to express our concerns over the use of non-compliant video surveillance systems for moving traffic regulation enforcement.


The government has said it intends to allow English local authorities to apply to the Department for Transport (DfT) for authorisation to enforce moving traffic regulations as set out under Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. There have been promises over the years to allow Local Authorities outside of London and other Metropolitan Boroughs to implement Part 6, and then last summer it was promised for summer 2021. Anyone who has been following this will know that it has slipped again but is now promised for February 2022.


London authorities and other Metropolitan Boroughs already have the powers under separate legislation, and councils in Wales have been able to apply to the Welsh Government for the powers for several years.


The legislation would allow authorised councils to use CCTV cameras to record potential traffic violations – such as banned turns, exceeding weight limits and stopping in box junctions – and gather supporting evidence with human operators or using automated artificial intelligence (AI) systems.


Existing AI technology would allow a computer-controlled PTZ camera to identify a contravention based on a range of criteria including size and type of vehicle, direction of travel and time of day and apply conditional traffic regulations. Having identified a violation, it can zoom in to capture a close-up of the number plate and close-ups of relevant enforcement type signage, query databases such as DVLA registered keepers and locally held lists of exempt vehicles, and then send an evidence package to a penalty charge notice system for review by a human operator.


Use of cameras to gather evidence of moving traffic violations for the purpose of issuing PCNs is already widely used across by Transport for London (TfL), but few of the systems are compliant with the BSCC’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (CoP).


Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA), the BSCC is responsible for encouraging relevant authorities – namely local government and police forces – to have ‘due regard’ for the CoP in their use of CCTV systems regardless of their stated purpose.


Compliance with the CoP is voluntary, and fewer than half of councils in England and Wales have taken the steps necessary to be recognised by the BSCC for being compliant in the use of CCTV for those monitoring tasks that are usually seen as the remit of CCTV such as detecting crime and disorder.


However, if compliance among systems intended for detecting crime and disorder is low, compliance for cameras used in traffic enforcement is almost non-existent.


While it is often assumed that cameras on London streets are all controlled by CCTV managers sitting in council offices, it is very unusual for cameras used in traffic enforcement to feed into the local authority CCTV control room. Instead they are for the most part controlled by TfL or the council’s parking enforcement division.


Ilker Dervish, vice chairman of the CCTV User Group, explains that TfL and parking enforcement officers usually take the view that their cameras do not have to comply with the Protection of Freedoms Act or the CoP as long as their cameras and signage are compliant with the Road Traffic Act 1991.


However, this interpretation of the law is not supported by the BSCC or the government’s own minister for transport in the House of Lords. In March 2020, Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton wrote to local authority chief executives (see link too letter below) telling them that, under the PoFA, all cameras operated by or on behalf of a local authority or police force must have regard for the CoP and the PoFA.


In her letter, she urged chief executives to ensure their authorities were in compliance with the CoP by using the BSCC’s self-assessment tool. She drew their attention to Section 1.16 of the CoP which essentially says failure to comply could be taken into account in a court or tribunal hearing and any evidence captured by such cameras may be discredited.


More importantly, in our view, by failing to ensure that traffic management cameras comply with the CoP, councils are eroding their own residents’ privacy and civil liberties. The 12 guiding principles of the CoP were carefully drafted to ensure that the use of CCTV is proportionate, transparent and compliant with civil liberties.


Traffic management cameras may lack basic protections – the problem is we just don’t know. Without being signed up to the BSCC’s CoP, it is impossible to known whether the systems:

  1. Are being operated by staff who are trained in data protection and civil liberties

  2. Have appropriate privacy masks in place to ensure they don’t accidentally intrude into private space

  3. Are compliant with data protection regulations

  4. Have appropriate cyber security and physical security measures in place to prevent the unauthorised leakage of sensitive images

Authorities are encouraged by the BSCC to have a single point of contact (SPOC) for all matters pertaining to the use of video surveillance cameras, regardless of which department may own or operate them. In many instances, the SPOC is the manager who looks after public space surveillance systems which were installed for detecting and monitoring crime and disorder. Often this person is not involved with traffic enforcement cameras but, as the SPOC, would be the first point of contact for anyone making a complaint about infringement of civil liberties by traffic enforcement cameras.


The CCTV User Group is urging the government to recognise the risk that traffic management cameras pose to privacy & civil liberties and make it clear to relevant authorities that they have a duty to have regard for the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice in the use of any cameras within their authority.


Furthermore, we are keen to ensure that the Public Space CCTV Managers and their teams, our Members, are adequately protected from accusations of failing to ensure that the law is followed and the CoP correctly applied.


Link

Letter from Baroness Vere of Norbiton to local authority chief executives regarding regulation of traffic surveillance cameras

Baroness Vere Letter to LA chief execs on surveillance cameras March 2020
.pdf
Download PDF • 731KB

Moving Traffic Regulation Enforcement - Implementing Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 – Recording of a webinar on Youtube chaired by Mike Marrs, president, British Parking Association. Jump to 38:25 for a demonstration of automated video detection systems from one manufacturer.


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