Information Commissioner's Office
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Police use of ‘Ring of Steel’ is disproportionate and must be reviewed

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice yesterday ordering a police force to review its use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras.

Yesterday’s decision follows the ICO’s investigation into Hertfordshire Constabulary’s extensive use of ANPR cameras surrounding the town of Royston. The use of these cameras has effectively made it impossible for anyone to drive their car in and out of Royston without a record being kept of the journey. The scheme is regularly referred to as ‘the ring of steel’.

Following a joint complaint about the scheme from the privacy groups Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and No CCTV, the ICO began an investigation to see whether the use of the cameras was justifiable and complied with the Data Protection Act. The ICO found that the constabulary failed to carry out any effective impact assessments before introducing the system of cameras. As a result it has not been able to give a satisfactory explanation to justify their use.

The ICO has now ruled that the collection of the information is unlawful – breaching principle one of the Act – and excessive – breaching principle three. Hertfordshire Constabulary has been issued with an enforcement notice ordering the force to stop processing people’s information in this way, unless they can justify the ANPR cameras use by way of a proper privacy impact assessment, or similar such assessment.

ICO Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, said:

“It is difficult to see why a small rural town such as Royston, requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town 24 hours a day. The use of ANPR cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address. After detailed enquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn’t the case in Royston. 

“We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully justified before they are installed. This includes carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the impact on the privacy of the road using public.”

The ICO has published a CCTV Code of Practice that explains how CCTV and other forms of electronic surveillance, including ANPR cameras, can be used in compliance with the Data Protection Act.

View the Hertfordshire Constabulary enforcement notice (pdf)

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter.

4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure 
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

5. If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070.

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