Tom Watson MP and ANPR

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Our comment on a posting on Labour MP Tom Watson's blog might be in the junk or moderation queues, unless, of course, this is another website which is censoring our views. Perhaps he will see the Trackback instead.

We were trying to comment on this posting:

01.12.2006: Watching him illegally watching you?

The information commissoner [sic] believes that the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology may be illegal. This would be very difficult for current police operations. For one, there has been an increasing reliance of ANPR by traffic police in recent years.

Surely you mean the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, rather than the Information Commissioner ?

I spent a day with the police to examine the use of the technology. Any car identified as not having tax or the correct records using the system was stopped. Frankly, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. The police were pulling out offensive weapons and a stack of drugs from nearly everyone they stopped.

We have no real objection to the use of ANPR lookups to the Police National Computer etc. for roadside patrols and checkpoints, where the information is used directly for stops and searches of suspicious vehicles, which is what was demonstrated to Tom Watson.

However, that is not the main use of ANPR any more - there are only one or two mobile ANPR roadside traffic Police teams per regional Police force..

However, Local Authority run CCTV surveillance cameras, either for traffic or "street protection" are now being converted to use ANPR. Why should Local Authority employees, or their private sector sub-contractors, ever be trusted with what is effectively back-door access to the Police National Computer and the DVLA databases ?

See: "ANPR database retention rules - Parliamentary Answer claims 2 years when it is actually 6 years or longer"

The National ANPR Database has never been the subject of widespread informed debate, either by the public or by Parliament.

What possible excuse is there for the retention of the numberplate, time, date and location log files of millions of innocent, law abiding motorists, either for 90 days or 2 years or 6 years or longer ? This data on innocent people, should be deleted immediately.

ANPR is also being used by supermarkets and petrol station retailers.

Similarly, most of the mad cap schemes proposed for national road pricing, seem to involve ANPR for some or all of the enforcement of the new tax.

In his recent report (pdf), the commissioner says that: "The unanimous view of the commissioners is that the existing legislation is not apt to deal with the fundamental problems to which the deployment of ANPR cameras gives rise..." Translated from mandarin-speak, that means pretty serious. He thinks use of the technology could be classed as unathourised [sic] covert surveillance by the courts.

Do not confuse the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas with the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, who, at the time of this report was Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew Leggatt, and who is now, since 1st July 2006, Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Rose.

See our UK Commissioners link for contact details.

The Surveillance Commissioners, who are all former High Court or similar Judges, are correct in
saying that mass surveillance ANPR falls foul of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part II requirement to get individual permission to use Directed or Covert Surveillance, only for carefully targeted Police or intelligence agency investigations of serious crimes i.e. ones which would attract a prison sentence of 3 or more years for a first time offender if convicted.

I'm going to urgently quiz Police Minister Tony McNulty on this next week.

We do not trust Tony McNulty, and wonder why he is still a Minister, after the Home Office disasters over which he has presided, e.g. the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the National Identity Register / ID cards project and his failed attempts at re-organisation of the regional Police forces etc.


Normally I agree with almost everything on this blog, but I see that you state that you do not have a problem with ANPR in certain circumstances. I just don't get it.

Perhaps it is just me, but if we must have this modern society that we have today then the motorcar is indispensable. (Public transport is not fit for the purpose and never will be). It should be a basic human right to have access to a car.

I cannot see why, as soon as I get in my car, I should forgo my rights. I have to suffer surveillance, summary justice, the police do not have to have a reason to stop me and I am guilty until I prove myself innocent.

There is nowhere in the UK where ancient rights and liberties are being taken away more than from drivers although once they have ID cards then all people can be treated in exactly the same way that drivers are now.

@ Jake - someone has to disagree now and then, to show that this blog is not too heavily censored 8-)

"it should be a basic human right to have access to a car."

but surely not to one which has been stolen, or which has no insurance, or which does not even comply with the minimal level of safety road worthiness according to an MOT test ?

ANPR for roadside checks and patrols who make use of information about susopect vehicles immediately, and who do not have time to worry about innocent vehicles or motorists passing by, does seem to be justifiable.

Data-mining the road usage patterns of innocent motorists, either through ANPR,or by tracking their occupants' mobile phones or even the broadcast radio station they have selected on their car radio, without their explicit informed consent, either for "intelligence" purposes, or to sell on to commercial companies is not justifiable, and goes against the well established Data Protection Principles.

I know you're a spy blog but there's no need to be paranoid about the hand of the censor at my site. I only screen out krypto-nazis and the insane and ocasionally, the insulting.

I don't appear to have any comments to the post for ANPR in my approval list though. It could be that your comments were accidentaly deleted with about 500 junk comments.

Please drop by again though. Your thoughts would be welcome.

@ Tom - thanks for the comment, we will try again.

When you spend more than five minutes writing a blog comment, with some URL links to illustrate the points you are making, and then it does not get published, even though other, later comments on the same post by other people are, you begin to wonder if your comment is stuck in the moderation queue.

If, like us, you really are being censored and libelled, by some organisations e.g.
by the Haloscan third party blog comment system and by WebSense commercial content filtering censorware, then it does cross your mind that this might be happening yet again - that is not paranoia, it is the fruit of actual, demonstrable experience.

Just imagine what the "collateral damage" problems will be like, if the vague plans being mooted by the European Commission and the Home Office, to censor "terrorist" websites, ever get implemented.

@ WTWU - Fair comment, it is good to disagree sometimes to open up debate, but:

Include minimum 3rd party insurance in the price of fuel and you have no need to go looking for people without insurance. (Although I am a libertarian so I must bite my tongue when I say this)

We take it for granted that we should all have insurance, but what if it was abolished and everybody was responsible for their own actions? Maybe drivers would be a lot more careful with their cars if they had to pay for accidents out of their own pockets.

Stolen: Yeah fair enough - but there only needs to be a database of stolen cars not every car.

As for MOT's: What about MOT exempt vehicles? Also; cars are self-monitoring these days and will drive you to distraction by their incessant beeping if there is anything wrong with them, so there is no real need for an MOT.

The attacks on every individual’s civil liberties now are exactly mirroring the attack on drivers’ civil liberties from the day after they introduced the driving licence. The driving licence is the forerunner of the ID card. A points system will soon be developed on the ID card (get 12 and go to jail). And the facial mapping is ANPR. If it is not acceptable outside a car then it should not be acceptable in one.

Every single attack on our civil liberties is based on the DVLA model and in order for it to be successful they need a licence. That is why the ID card is so important to them. Perhaps if it was nipped in the bud when it was road traffic law it would never make it into everyday life.

It is inconceivable that we would accept facial mapping CCTV cameras if we refused to accept ANPR ones.

I cannot see how you campaign against CCTV cameras (as the original site does) unless they are pointing at private vehicles.

@ Jake - insurance surcharge on fuel duty ? Is that not equivalent to the nationalisation of the motor insurance industry ? Is that likely to be more efficient than the current private sector system ?

The trouble with ANPR or facial recognition or "suspicious behaviour" image analysis etc. is that they are all invisible to the public - they cannot tell by looking at a CCTV camera, what exactly the computer system is linked to is doing with the images out of view - therefore "out of sight, out of mind".

@ WTWU - It is not the price of the insurance that bothers me too much, especially if it's 3rd party only. We already have the MIB which pays out to people who have been hit by uninsured drivers. As there will be no uninsured drivers if it is on fuel, this might actually work out cheaper.

The reason I sort of advocate an insurance surcharge on fuel duty is that everybody would have to pay it. Ok it would mean nationalising the insurance industry but it is the best of 2 evils.

If insurance has to be compulsory then I would rather it was included in the price of a gallon of fuel than have ANPR and The motor insurance database (Looking at it from the point of view that they seem to be justifying the existence of ANPR by saying that it catches uninsured vehicles).

There is a YouGov poll at the moment ( that really concerns me deeply.

The fact that 85% of the public support public CCTV cannot be a good thing.

I am convinced that surveillance has changed the way that criminals behave and my argument against CCTV has always been the same: Which would you prefer; little old ladies getting mugged in their homes or a pair of trainers getting robbed in a high street store?

The thing is that the state actually believes that they can irradiate crime, but all that CCTV does is move the problem on. The crime may change (become more violent etc.) but the overall crime figures never go down except when they decriminalise something like smoking dope.

ANPR will not stop people using cars without documentation.

1) Don’t register the car in your name in the first place.
2) Put foreign plates on it.
3) Put show plates on it.
4) Put show plates on it with a pretend "private reg" When stopped say that you've just got them and hint that the databases must be out of date.
5) Buy a foreign car.
6) Stick a bit of insulation tape one of the letters on your number plate, it stopped, tell them that it is up to them to prove mensrea.

I am sure that if you ask the right people there will be many more tricks, but these are just a few of the ones that I have heard of.

Just as a matter of privacy, I got some number plate font letters and stuck them on my van on a yellow background at each side of the number plate. It seems to work, but the fact remains that I should not have to do this just so that I may travel with a degree of privacy.

One of the fly-on-the-fuzz cop reality shows the other day had a section with a man who had tape on his numberplate - they nicked him for 'going equipped' on the basis that he had no genuine reason for the tape and it was potentially useful for evading cameras at petrol stations during fuel thefts. I'd be interested to know if that kind of creative police thinking works (in this case the driver failed a breath test, too, and the car was on stolen plates, so they probably didn't need to test it in court).

How do you know putting extra letters on works? Would just draw attention if an actual copper sees you, surely?

@ Tom - obscuring a Number Plate with anything at all, can lead to a £1000 fine.

The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001

Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) (Amendment) Regulations 2002

The black insulation tape trick e.g. changing a letter "F" to a letter "E" is being used to try to fool the London Congestion Charge ANPR cameras, which, by the way, TfL have now admitted are not switched off even when the Congestion Charge does not apply i.e. at night and at weekends and on public holidays, just as we always suspected.

@ Tom - I am not doing it so I can avoid being pulled, I am doing it as a protest to surveillance. There is no way that an ANPR camera can distinguish between a number plate and other letters in the same font provided that the spaces are correct. It is no good for speed cameras as they sometimes check them manually, but it screws up the road user datbase and it is perfectly legal. (H4 MPER at one side and 4NPR at the other)

All the other things that I have suggested are illegal, but taping a numberplate is probably the one that you could get away with if pulled. Just don't stick the tape on too straight and blatantly.

Can you prove that I put the tape on (it must have been kids officer)?
Can you prove that I intened to deceive?

I have once, in a conversation with a copper told him that it was his duty to prove actusrea and mensrea. He gave me a producer, snarled and sent me on my way. (I am not convinced that he knew the meaning of actusrea and mensrea)

On the reality shows they pull chavs who don't have a clue about the law. They never show anybody getting pulled who challenges their authority.

Jake Long: Just in case you encounter a police officer who does know the meaning, you may wish to know it's actually "actus reus" and "mens rea". :)

@ Chris - Please forgive me for my bad spelling however I don't really think that they would ask me to write it down and it does not make it any less true.

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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.

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Every Step You Take a documentary about CCTV surveillance in the Uk by Austrian film maker Nino Leitner.

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

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

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No CCTV - The Campaign against CCTV

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

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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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Follow Spy Blog on Twitter

For those of you who find it convenient, there is now a Twitter feed to alert you to new Spy Blog postings.

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