New plans to expand the UK’s controversial ‘spy car’ scheme has been labeled a ‘Stasi-type spy operation’. The plans are to supposedly protect school children from dangerously parked cars.
Essex council leader, Neil Stock stated:
“Why not stop and speak to parents? Kids are not getting run over and this is tackling a problem that does not really exist.”
The North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) has agreed to expand the invasive scheme across Essex with a 12 month trial, costing £70,000 per car.
The high-tech surveillance cars are fitted with rotating CCTV cameras and automatic number plate recognition systems, originally introduced it was claimed, to catch illegal parking outside schools.
However the cars have not only been used to unethically spy on parents, but have also been used to unfairly issue tickets to disabled drivers if their blue badge does not appear on the CCTV footage.
In April, a tribunal ruling decided the spy cars had gone against Government guidance and were not being used correctly. Cars had needlessly been used to issue tickets when traffic wardens could have used to resolve situations instead.
James Richardson, a Traffic Penalty Tribunal adjudicator stated:
“The sensitive nature of evidence gathered by CCTV is specifically considered and addressed by the guidance issued by the Government.
“Recommendation is made that such devices are only used where enforcement is difficult, sensitive or enforcement by wardens is not practical.”
More opponents, including parents, have criticised the scheme, branding it a “Big Brother-like” money-making exercise and an “invasion of privacy”.
The financial rewards being made from the cars are significant.
Cars in Bolton, Lancashire, are currently making the council an extra £250,000 a year in ticket fines.
One outraged parent, Derwent Jaconelli, has spoken out:
“My view is quite simple. I think traffic wardens and police are there to control traffic and give you the opportunity to move along.
“I think the spy cameras and the spy cars are a money-making enterprise. Highway robbery is what it is.
“From a primary school parent point of view, some parents have more than one child so they are going around maybe two or three schools.”
Headteacher Sophia Pardalis of Limes Farm Junior School in Chigwell, supports the idea but admits:
“We have a caretaker at the school who stops people coming along and parking on the zig-zag lines but unless that’s happening cars do sneak in.”
Right now over 20 local authorities outside London are now using “remote enforcement” vehicles, and that number is set to increase.
Campaign Big Brother Watch slammed the scheme:
“The CCTV car represents a very dangerous escalation in Britain’s surveillance society. These vehicles are sent out to catch people and make money, with road safety only an afterthought.”
Perhaps more disturbing still is the fact that councils have gone to extreme lengths to steal from the population, calling in bailiffs to take fines from hundreds of motorists.
One rule for us
The scheme is also hypocritical.
Earlier this year the Stoke-on-Trent council was accused of double standards when it emerged that spy cars are exempt from traffic rules.
Spy cars have been spotted parking illegally on double yellow lines and loading-only bays.
Ian Tamburello, the city council’s strategic manager for enforcement, said:
“Enforcement vehicles are exempt from restrictions on highways when they are carrying out enforcement duties.”
One frustrated motorist, Sabrina Lillie, said:
“It’s not fair if they’re going to fine someone for driving offences and then go and do it themselves. If they want to be taken seriously, they should abide by their own rules.”
Protest groups have sprung up that aim to combat this aspect of the surveillance society by following spy cars and warning motorists when the cars are approaching.
Member of one group, Steve Baker, said:
“We are not stopping the cars from doing their job. In fact, we are encouraging and helping them.
“If drivers are not parking illegally, then they won’t get caught.
“We are simply helping the spy car fulfil what the Secretary of State said in 2008, which was to get 100 per cent compliance, with no penalty charges.
“We also observed the cars to make sure they were not committing any offences themselves when they were out.”
Mick Meaney is the editor of RINF News, created as a response to increasing levels of control, distortions and lies from the government, corporations and the media.