Civil liberty groups are up in arms after it emerged that US anti-terror authorities have effectively been granted access to images and footage obtained from roadside traffic cameras in the UK.
Until now it was believed that amendments to the Data Protection Act announced by UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in July 2007 would only grant UK anti-terror police access to real-time data obtained from roadside cameras. However, it has now come to light that UK police are at liberty to pass this material on to their US counterparts.
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The permission for UK police to do this was reportedly hidden away in a "special certificate", signed by Ms Smith before she made the announcement. This in itself suggests an attempt to mislead parliament, or at the very least conceal information – a charge the present government is hardly a stranger to.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the certificate sets out what the UK police are legally allowed to share with enforcement agencies from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) by UK anti-terror police.
Specifically, the document reads: "The certificate relates to the processing of the images taken by the camera, personal data derived from the images, including vehicle registration mark, date, time and camera location."
A spokesman for the UK Information Commissioner has confirmed that the wording of the certificate allows for images of UK vehicles and registrations to be passed on to countries that fall outside the EEA, including the US.
In response civil liberty groups have said they are horrified that images of innocent drivers undertaking routine journeys could now end up in the hands of terror police from the UK and abroad.
Fears have also been voiced that the UK could be on course for a move towards a system of ‘data mining’, whereby millions of journeys are analysed by computers in the hope of identifying patterns of movement that can be cross-referenced and matched to criminal or even terrorist activity.
For its part the Home Office has defended the move, with an unnamed source inside the department claiming that "robust controls" had been put in place to "control and safeguard access to, and use of, the information".
Given recent displays of just how ‘robust’ governmental security can be, we’re tempted to wonder how long it’ll be before a top-security traffic data disc destined for the Pentagon somehow ends up being found in a lay-by just outside Preston.