Police gain data protection exemption for London surveillance

Police in London have been granted exemption from the Data Protection Act to track the city's motorists. The Home Office has granted The Metropolitan Police full, real time access to surveillance footage from London's congestion system cameras.

Police in London have been granted exemption from the Data Protection Act to track the city's motorists. The Home Office has granted The Metropolitan Police full, real time access to surveillance footage from London's congestion system cameras.

In order to operate the congestion charge which operates in central London there is a ring of cameras in the city centre fitted with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology.

Police were previously able to request specific footage from those cameras for reasons of national security. The Home Office has just said that police can monitor that footage and vehicle movement in real time without their activities being subject to the Data Protection Act (DPA).

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has signed a certificate of exemption from the DPA that allows congestion system operator Transport for London (TfL) to pass data on to the police as long as it is for the protection of national security. The Act contains provisions for exemptions for the safeguarding of national security.

The exemption certificate states: "This Certificate relates to the processing of the images taken by the cameras, and personal data derived from the images, including vehicle registration mark, date, time, place and camera location."

The exemption, said the certificate, applies to "the processing of the camera data by police officers and support staff assigned to National Security Units in connection with the performance of the statutory and common law functions of police officers assigned to National Security Units insofar as they relate to the safeguarding of national security".

"The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police believes that it is necessary due to the enduring, vehicle-borne terrorist threat to London," said Tony McNulty, the Home Office minister responsible for police and security.

"The Met requires bulk ANPR data from TfL's camera network in London specifically for terrorism intelligence purposes and to prevent and investigate such offences. The infrastructure will allow the real-time flow of data between TfL and the Met."

A companion document to the certificate, and referred to by it, says that the exemption must only apply to cases which threaten the security of the UK. "The camera data shall only be processed for the purpose of processing for matters relating to safeguarding national security, it shall not be used for general policing purposes," said the document which sets out the reasons for granting the exemption.