Sainsburys petrol stations and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

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Manfred Roxon has emailed us with an article on Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) at Sainsburys supermarket petrol stations.

Additional issues for concern include the Data Retention period and policy for these systems.

Whilst the theory is that they merely do a lookup of a customer's vehicle Number Plate against a "blacklist" of convicted or previous "driven off without paying" records, it is hard to believe that there are no log files or engineering test modes in such equipment which can also keep a tab on legitimate customers time, date and location information.

How long is such data retained for, and is is ever passed on to other people, such as market research companies or even to the Police etc ?

Sainsburys’ bogus "Big Brother"
© 2005 Manfred Roxon
Sainsburys is to take down bogus "police" warnings from its petrol stations all over the country – because they’re untrue. Bold yellow warnings tell drivers that Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras "linked to the police" have recorded their car’s number to foil non-payers. The ANPR warning signs imply the police and security services scan every car that drives in, enabling them to track people (not cars) for a variety of reasons. Sainsburys also now admits there may be no cameras at all, only scary warnings. As the company’s Civil Rights Officer, Jillian Hardwick concedes, "No Sainsbury's ANPR systems are linked directly to the police. In some stores we have notices up as a deterrent but do not actually use the scheme."

The civil rights campaign, Liberty says, "The use of false cameras and misleading notices is not acceptable," because people have "the right to know when they are, and are not, under surveillance". In Devon and Cornwall, for example, the police say Sainsburys has never approached the force to discuss a computer link, while the Information Commissioners Office, the watchdog supervising overt surveillance, says ANPR signs "should reflect the accurate picture" – which Sainsburys' warnings do not.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras check number plate images against a privately operated computer blacklist. A buzzer sounds if potential non-payers, known as 'drive-outs' or bilkers appear. Sainsburys wants eighty ANPR stations by the end of the year and eventually plans to have them all on-line.

Now, following enquiries about its Devon stores, Sainsburys says its fake "police" warning signs are "in the process of being changed" at filling stations in across the country. Many have been up for more than a year, and yet today the company "cannot give (you) a timescale" for lifting its bogus police threat. Even so the Information Commissioners Office is "pleased Sainsburys has given an assurance that its signs will reflect the accurate picture in future".

Sainsburys won’t give any figures for stolen petrol, calling them "commercially sensitive". No comment either on whether any losses are insured. A manager at an Exeter store told a customer non-payers are to blame for petrol price rises! Not the Chancellor or blown-up pipelines. The lack of transparency means it’s hard to tell if Sainsburys ANPR cameras are even justified in crime-fighting and business terms. Customers might be being snooped on for no reason.

Honest and accurate warning signs are required under the 1998 Data Protection Act and company directors can be charged for negligence – a point which even the British Petroleum Retailers Association highlights on its website. The regulator, the ICO, says warnings should show "members of the law-abiding public were being treated civilly and respectfully, as was their due." The civil rights organisation Liberty says misleading or deceiving the public clearly falls short of that objective. "Surveillance technology can play a partial role in making areas safer and dealing with criminal acts. However there are also big potential dangers and a fundamental part of protecting against these is allowing people the right to know when they are, and are not, under surveillance. The use of false cameras and misleading notices is not acceptable."

But does it really matter? Anyone can install a fake burglar alarm box without having to prove it’s needed. But a wall box or a bell are a long way from the computerised vigilantism of Automatic Number Plate Recognition – especially when it involves pretending Big Brother is watching as customers fill up their tanks. Sainsburys says its safeguards mean the data won’t be abused, and after so much deception that’s a great relief to know.

© 2005 Manfred Roxon email:


Sainsburys PRO – 0207 695 6500 / 0207 695 7295

Devon & Cornwall Constabulary PRO – 01392 452151

Information Commissioners PRO – 0207 282 2960

Liberty Human Rights PRO – 0207 403 3888

STOREANPR INSTALLED (Source: Sainsburys Press Office)
Rugby03 August 2004
Alperton04 August 2004
Darnley11 February 2005
Warren Heath07 September 2004
Pepper Hill27 September 2004
Becton02 November 2004
Castle Boulivard03 November 2004
Reedswood27 October 2004
Dunstable12 October 2004
Courthouse Green01 November 2004
Weedon Road07 February 2005
Water Lane08 November 2004
Bramigham Park22 February 2005
Enfield10 November 2004
London Colney24 November 2004
Whitechapel13 December 2004
Purley Way01 December 2004
Nine Elms30 November 2004
Cobham23 November 2004
East Mayne08 December 2004
Heaton Park06 December 2004
Leigh22 November 2004
Denton07 December 2004
West Hove30 November 2004
Harlow08 March 2005
Marsh Mills21 March 2005
Hornsey Rise29 March 2005
Castle Court24 March 2005
Watchmore13 September 2004
So far Sainsburys hasn’t supplied any info about its Exeter (Alphingon) store which therefore may just have signs and no real ANPR cameras."
Sainsbury's Store Locator web page (tick the box marked "Petrol") for maps of where these supermarket petrol stations are located.

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The Mail on Sunday has been investigating the scandal of the Driver Vehicle Licesing Agency: DVLA sells your details to criminals by MARTIN DELGADO, ROB LUDGATE and MARK NICHOL, Mail on Sunday 08:16am 27th November 2005 The Government is selling... Read More


i go 2 a petrol station 2 buy fuel NOT 2 get a criminal check done on me,
as 2 whether or not i'm a good payer of my depts or not.

Buy a dictionary whilst you are there too.

Have you ever seen a dictionary for sale at a petrol station, or even at a supermarket ?

We tend to make a few typing errors, which we do try to correct, if people are kind enough to point them out politely. can be useful or just the consensus gleaned from search engines (which also tend to show common misspellings, which may actually find their way into the language one day e.g. "teh"

Actually yes, I have seen dictionaries available. And if not there are always schools & colleges for learning grammar and spelling. But other than that I agree whole-heartedly - I don't want to be "assessed" when buying petrol, I just want the petrol. Where did all those small stations that don't have this tehnology go?.... oh yes, the supermarkets put them out of business!!

if u have nothing to hide . why worry.only people with criminal minds have problems like these. I do not have a problem with my being recored except when I'am sexsing.

@ "charli" - there are lots of completely legal and normal reasons, including personal and family safety and security, not to allow a commercial company like a supermarket or even the Local Council to be able to track vehicle movements e.g. the times, dates and locations and not to be able to use the DVLA or the PNC to look up the home addresses of the registered keepers' of vehicles.

You are perfectly entitled not to care about your own privacy, but you have no right to impose on the privacy of other people, without their express, informed consent.

It's the same old story - bleating civil liberty whingers. Look, if someone wants to do business with me I check out their payment history as does any sensible company that wishes to remain in business. This is no different as the people entering the petrol station want to do business with Sainsbury and Sainsbury, quite understandably, don't want to get ripped off by some chancer. Registration recognition is operated all over the country in industrial estates, towns and around 'sensitive' areas. You have no idea just how many times you are seen in a single day. It's too late guys - the horse has bolted so stop whinging and accept it. If you've done nothing wrong, and plan to keep it that way, you have nothing to worry about. GROW UP!

...Oh, and Alan spelling the word 'discrimination' correctly when he couldn't spell 'to' just about sums it all up! Ignorance breeds paranoia methinks.

If there are proper safeguards restricting the use of this intrusive tracking technology to known criminals or suspected "drive off" petrol thieves, that would probably be acceptable to most people.

However if, as we suspect, there are no proper safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of personal tracking information being gathered and retained without the explicit individual consent of the vast majority of innocent customers, for "junk mail" marketing or other nefarious purposes, that is both morally wrong and is also illegal.

Just because there is widespread abuse of privacy does not make it a tolerable situation, especially when there is so little actual reduction in crime to show for it.

"Kimo" may be willing to accept such abuses, and may be naive enough to trust the good intentions of the operators of such systems, but we certainly are not.

Why is there a problem with filling up a car and driving off? If the cashier turns the pump on
without first requesting payment then surely no payment is required, and the petrol must be some kind of gift.
The police should not waste their time on these cases and concentrate on real crime.
The solution rests with the oil companies who so far have refused to invest in proper technology for a pre-pay system.

Kimo will have no problem with a rogue employee checking his home address and his car type, and then having masked individuals turn up rip the keys out of his hand one dark night, speed off (maybe with his child in the back of the car?) and re-plate the car with someone else's number on a similar coloured/model car (that they also got from the records that they were party to and sold on to a criminal gang).

NB This is an adaptation of a true story that happened to my family - not a supermarket employee this time, but a rogue employee of a main dealership! Beware - civil liberty should be protected and tested every step of the way.

In principle, good idea. In practice, will have to be very carefully implemented.

Those of you who feel so violated because you are being monitored should remember, these petrol stations are all sign posted that they use ANPR, so its no surprise, you have a choice. If you want fuel from this venue you accept the terms, ie, being recorded, if you dont want to accept those terms, go to a petrol station that doesnt use ANPR and your perceived civil rights will be intact. It is nothing more than a condition of sale at these venues - your choice is either to accept it or take your money elsewhere.

Rob, you miss the point about anpr recording at garages.Our gripe is about whats happening with the data. Is it being destroyed or is it passed onto government agencies who snoop.

I suggest you ask them what they do with the data/video and who has access to it. This ofcourse exludes those who fill up and ride off without paying.they get their just reward if captured.

Emma,when you go into any shop/supermarket do you pay for your goods first? No,in a supermarket you load your shopping into a trolley.Do you then walk out through the door avoiding the checkout? No.Why not? This is surely a gift as you assume petrol is just because you dont pay first.Just how dumb are you?

I got hit by another driver today, he drove off, left my car in a total mess. I got his number plate. is there any site i can check this on?

Just to pass comment on the statement about the petrol stations being sign posted about ANPR and thus freedom of choice, the ones that I have observed you have to drive past the camera to read the sign. It would be better to be able to make the choice prior to being "recognised", publicising where these are would be a good move too.

This is a big issue for survivors of domestic violence for whom being tracked would mean injury and or death. There does not seem to be any guarantee that the information could not be retrieved by a potential abuser, whether by direct hacking into the system or by chatting up the data administrator....positions of power are attractive to those who perpetrate this type of crime.

me tinks Alan has dun a bunk from a peterol station in de past bcause of V way he rights. not been prejudice or n-y-thing. right?

I may be able to shed some light on the ins and out of ANPR within petrol stations. Most major supermarkets use ANPR not just Sainsburys. Only because of the false signs did Sainsburys come into the media. I have been involved with the operation and running of a Petrol ANPR system for the past 3 years. This is how it works.
1. The system does not pick up registrations as you pass a camera.
2. Depending on the size of the forecourt 3-4 cameras are used of the pan/tilt/zoom type.
3. As the customer lifts the pump to dispense fuel one of the cameras will activate and zoom the the registration.
4. This registration is then checked against a database held on THAT SITE only for previous non payment of fuel.
5. If the Reg is on the database the pump will not allow any fuel to be dispensed.
6. The same camera then moves to capture the image of the person dispensing the fuel.
7. If no reg is on the database fuel is dispensed.
8. Every customer is checked in this way.
Ok that is how most petrol ANPR systems are used. Now the use of the information. The system is covered by data protection act with respects to access to the information by authorised personnel only. (usually a senior Security manager).No other people can gain access. Access to the system is logged for audit purposes.
General information is stored for 6 months and information relating to criminal activity minimum 12 months.
The system is mainly used to combat petrol theft e.g. A first time thief not listed on the database will have their reg and picture taken. These can then be passed to the police. A second time offender will not recieve petrol in the first place.
It is also used to combat credit card fraud. The police can sometimes be months behind once they get the details from the banks of the fraud. I can easily track a credit card number on a different system to give me a date/time/amount/pump number then key that info into the ANPR to get a nice little still of the offender and the car reg.(imagine how much better that little old lady who had her credit card stolen during a violent mugging feels now that the police have so mush more to go on.)
The system is used for nothing more. I can get details of registrations and people driving cars but not home addresses as some people think or check if a customer has a criminal record. As long as people pay for their petrol I have no problems. The information is not passed on to any other agencies or my companies marketing department. I only pass on information regarding criminal activity directly linked to the pertol station and that information goes directly to the police.

I agree that a dodgy person could gather this info and try to do naughty things with it, that is why an audit trail is available and audited. In any proffession you can get dodgy people. i have heard of police officers using PNC to get personal details on the hot babe they just drove past.

I hope this may have answered some questions any more are welcomed at my email.

I work in a petrol station and it is very frustrating and unfair to be blamed for customers who pump and drive off especially when it is very busy and you are not able to get the reg. no. of the car. If a better system is put in place we as cashiers will enjoy our jobs without being blamed for something that is not our fault by managers who are not even present at the station and do not know exactly how frustrating it is.
A better security system is definitely needed.

I think the whole debate on ANPR and cameras is pathetic, we are giving away more and more rights out of stupity and fear. if this is to catch petrol cheats, just bring in a system where you have to insert your visa or credit card into the pump first to activate it etc. Problem solved lol.

Before petrol stations discovered they could make more money by using self service machines and employing less people to take care of them, this electronic surveillance system was unnecessary as your car was filled for you by an attendant. Surely a far more civilised way of doing things, far more secure, less open to abuse both by individual and organisation (I was interested to read Baldy's piece but we must always remember, "this is under current legislation", things change). Also it would create some much needed jobs in this current economic climate. (Bank boardroom to forecourt, has a nice ring to it.)

It was rather interesting for me to read the post. Thank you for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read more on that blog soon.
Don't you think design should be changed once in a few months?

Kate Benedict
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About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog attempts to draw public attention to, and comments on, some of the current trends in ever cheaper and more widespread surveillance technology being deployed to satisfy the rapacious demand by state and corporate bureaucracies and criminals for your private details, and the technological ignorance of our politicians and civil servants who frame our legal systems.

The hope is that you the readers, will help to insist that strong safeguards for the privacy of the individual are implemented, especially in these times of increased alert over possible terrorist or criminal activity. If the systems which should help to protect us can be easily abused to supress our freedoms, then the terrorists will have won.

We know that there are decent, honest, trustworthy individual politicians, civil servants, law enforcement, intelligence agency personnel and broadcast, print and internet journalists etc., who often feel powerless or trapped in the system. They need the assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.

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Postman Patel

The 4th Bomb: Tavistock Sq Daniel's 7:7 Revelations - Daniel Obachike

OurKingdom - part of OpenDemocracy - " will discuss Britain’s nations, institutions, constitution, administration, liberties, justice, peoples and media and their principles, identity and character"

Beau Bo D'Or blog by an increasingly famous digital political cartoonist.

Between Both Worlds - "Thoughts & Ideas that Reflect the Concerns of Our Conscious Evolution" - Kingsley Dennis

Bloggerheads: The Alisher Usmanov Affair - the rich Uzbek businessman and his shyster lawyers Schillings really made a huge counterproductive error in trying to censor the blogs of Tim Ireland, of all people.

Matt Wardman political blog analysis

Henry Porter on Liberty - a leading mainstream media commentator and opinion former who is doing more than most to help preserve our freedom and liberty.

HMRC is shite - "dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of the HMRC, who have to endure the monumental shambles that is Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)."

Head of Legal - Carl Gardner a former legal advisor to the Government

The Landed Underclass - Voice of the Banana Republic of Great Britain

Henrik Alexandersson - Swedish blogger threatened with censorship by the Försvarets Radioanstalt (FRA), the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishement, their equivalent of the UK GCHQ or the US NSA.

World's First Fascist Democracy - blog with link to a Google map - "This map is an attempt to take a UK wide, geographical view, of both the public and the personal effect of State sponsored fear and distrust as seen through the twisted technological lens of petty officials and would be bureaucrats nationwide."

Blogoir - Charles Crawford - former UK Ambassodor to Poland etc.

No CCTV - The Campaign against CCTV

Barcode Nation - keeping two eyes on the database state.

Lords of the Blog - group blog by half a dozen or so Peers sitting in the House of Lords.

notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society - blog by Dr. David Murakami Wood, editor of the online academic journal Surveillance and Society

Justin Wylie's political blog

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

Armed and Dangerous - Sex, software, politics, and firearms. Life’s simple pleasures… - by Open Source Software advocate Eric S. Raymond.

Georgetown Security Law Brief - group blog by the Georgetown Law Center on National Security and the Law , at Georgtown University, Washington D.C, USA.

Big Brother Watch - well connected with the mainstream media, this is a campaign blog by the TaxPayersAlliance, which thankfully does not seem to have spawned Yet Another Campaign Organisation as many Civil Liberties groups had feared.

Spy on Moseley - "Sparkbrook, Springfield, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. An MI5 Intelligence-gathering operation to spy on Muslim communities in Birmingham is taking liberties in every sense" - about 150 ANPR CCTV cameras funded by Home Office via the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) section of ACPO.

FitWatch blog - keeps an eye on the activities of some of the controversial Police Forward Intelligence Teams, who supposedly only target "known troublemakers" for photo and video surveillance, at otherwise legal, peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Other Links

Spam Huntress - The Norwegian Spam Huntress - Ann Elisabeth

Fuel Crisis Blog - Petrol over £1 per litre ! Protest !
Mayor of London Blog
London Olympics 2012 - NO !!!!

Cool Britannia


Free Gary McKinnon - UK citizen facing extradition to the USA for "hacking" over 90 US Military computer systems.

Parliament Protest - information and discussion on peaceful resistance to the arbitrary curtailment of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, in the excessive Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square in London.

Brian Burnell's British / US nuclear weapons history at

RIPA Consultations

RIPA Part III consultation blog - Government access to Encrypted Information and Encryption Keys.

RIPA Part I Chapter II consultation blog - Government access and disclosure of Communications Traffic Data

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Please bear in mind the many recent, serious security vulnerabilities which have compromised the Twitter infrastructure and many user accounts, and Twitter's inevitable plans to make money out of you somehow, probably by selling your Communications Traffic Data to commercial and government interests.

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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

intelligence_gov_uk_150.gif - Cabinet Office hosted portal website to various UK Intelligence Agencies and UK Government intelligence committees and Commissioners etc.

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protestClimate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

Serious Organised Crime Agency - have cut themselves off from direct contact with the public and businesses - no phone - no email

Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

netcu_logo_150.gif National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit
National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit - keeps a watch on animal extremists, genetically modified crop protesters, peace protesters etc.
(some people think that the word salad of acronyms means that NETCU is a spoof website)

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme