Smile please, you’re on 1,000 CCTV cameras

By Richard Down | ALMOST 1,000 local authority CCTV cameras provide surveillance on Merseyside as people go about their everyday lives, the Daily Post has found.

Additional CCTV cameras are located on Merseytravel trains and buses, more still monitor customers outside bars, while thousands more fill workplaces across the region.

A survey, as part of the Daily Post’s personal data special investigation, found there are 318 cameras owned and run by Liverpool Council, 110 by Wirral, 250 by Knowsley, 96 by Sefton, 80 by St Helens, and more than 100 by Chester.

The data at the moment is stored for 31 days, by councils such as Knowsley.

In a sign of the growing use of CCTV, a national network of roadside cameras is planned that will capture around 50m licence plates a day.

It is understood the details captured by these cameras will be stored for five years at a new data centre in Hendon, north London. Police will be able to use the information for anything from investigating terrorism to low-level crime.

Civil liberties groups have warned that building a national database could significantly increase intrusion into individuals’ private lives.

The Home Office said the network of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) enabled cameras will be up and running in all authorities, including Merseyside, by early in the New Year.

But none of the Merseyside councils has yet adopted this technology. Merseyside Police already has the right to remotely control council cameras on request.

More untaxed vehicles are being clamped or towed away on Merseyside than ever before thanks to a fleet of vans equipped with ANPR technology.

A total of 3,184 cars were seized in the 12 months to May, 2008, compared to 2,638 in the previous 12 months.

Police also found 200 kilos of cannabis resin in a van with an estimated street value of more than £1m after targeting a van on the A41 in Birkenhead with ANPR equipment.

Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “The use of ANPR is a key tool for the police in crime fighting technology.

“ANPR is only used to target vehicles where records indicate that an offence has been committed or there is evidence of criminal activity.

“The technology does no more than check the number plate against records and alert police where there is cause for concern.

“People lawfully using our roads will do so unhindered by the police.”

Even without the advances in technology that integrating ANPR with the existing CCTV grid could provide, police and local authorities have begun to rely heavily on CCTV evidence in court.

The footage of England footballer Joey Barton’s violent attack in Church Street in Liverpool at 5am on December 27 last year helped secure a high- profile conviction.

A Liverpool Council spokesman said: “The CCTV system has been hugely successful in providing reassurance for members of the public and helping to cut crime significantly to make Liverpool one of the safest large cities in the country.

“In the city centre, the number of offences is at its lowest level for 10 years and has dropped by 40% since 2005.”

However, civil liberties groups have voiced concerns about building a national database — about who will have access to the data, and why records should be stored for so long.

Kiron Reid, a lecturer specialising in police powers at the University of Liverpool, said: “Government bodies are not good at protecting our public data.

“If the information is put on a database, it could end up being left on a laptop and falling into the wrong hands.”

Mike Kilroe, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Liverpool Hope University, said: “The traditional view is that, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide.

“We’re being monitored in every aspect of our lives.

“Who is watching the people who monitor us?”

In the case of council- run CCTV operatives, the government-run Security Industry Association acts as a watchdog which runs Criminal Records Bureau checks on employees.

The system is still open to abuse — in 2005, two Sefton council CCTV operators were jailed and another given community service for spying on a woman undressing in her flat in Aintree.

Council bosses made a substantial pay-out to the 25-year-old victim at the centre of the so-called Peeping Tom scandal.

ACC Byrne added: “There is a very strict management process in place to ensure that ANPR data is only used for policing purposes.”