Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Department for Transport


Current Activities

  1.1  The Department for Transport holds data on drivers, vehicles and vehicle movements.

  1.2  The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's (DVLA) has a register containing more than 42 million driver licence records. The drivers' database has personal details—such as name, address, date of birth and driving convictions—for the majority of the adult population in GB. This information is required to check that a person has an entitlement to drive. They also have a register with active records for some 35.5 million vehicles. This holds vehicle keeper information for the UK which is used to collect and enforce vehicle excise duty (VED), and to ensure that vehicles on or off the road are traceable to an individual or organisation.

  1.3  Both DVLA and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) use ANPR Cameras to support their business objectives. DVLA has 15 camera vehicles to identify and take action against those who evade VED. VOSA currently have 8 camera vehicles which are used to identify, stop and investigate commercial vehicles suspected of being used illegally.

  1.4  The Highways Agency (HA) operates cameras on England's Strategic Road Network in support of traffic management, eg managing congestion. The cameras fall into two functional categories: Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). There are 1,133 ANPR cameras and 1,300 CCTV cameras deployed though precise numbers can vary, for instance because of disruption during roadworks. All data from ANPR cameras operated by the HA is anonymised and the standard feed from CCTV cameras does not produce a picture which is strong enough to identify individuals.


  1.4  The Department for Transport takes issues surrounding privacy very seriously. Sharing data to deliver public policy objectives needs to be balanced with protecting privacy and maintaining public confidence that their personal data is adequately protected against misuse.

  1.5  It is departmental policy that data sharing should only be undertaken pursuant to specific statutory authorisation, or in other circumstances where a reasonable legal justification has been established (for example implied or ancillary rights pursuant to other statutory functions in combination with residual common law powers). All data sharing must also comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the common law duty of confidence.

  1.6  A review of data release from the vehicle register to the police and local authorities, and to anyone else that can show "reasonable cause" for requiring it, was undertaken in 2006. This resulted in 14 new measures being implemented to safeguard and protect data from misuse.

2.  DATA

  2.1  The main DfT databases are those held by DVLA which maintains a register of some 42 million driver licence records and a separate register containing active records of 35.5 million vehicles. The information on drivers and vehicles is vital for road safety, and is an essential part of effective enforcement strategies.

  2.2  DfT and its Agencies share data with a number of public and private sector organisations, with the necessary controls to safeguard the use of the data and to prevent mis-use. These include:

    —  police;

    —  local authorities;

    —  other Government Departments; and

    —  private sector.

  2.3  Data may be shared for various reasons, including improved customer service and more effective road traffic enforcement. For example:

    —  the online vehicle licensing system is only possible by linking insurance data, MOT data and DVLA data;

    —  since 2004, people applying for a new or replacement driving licence no longer need to send in a photograph if they have recently applied for a passport. With the consent of the individual, the passport photo and signature can be used for the driving licence; and

    —  DVLA data is shared with the police for road traffic purposes, criminal law enforcement and to help identify individuals and the families of those involved in road traffic accidents. Drivers' data is also shared on a case-by-case basis for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of serious crime.

  2.4  DVLA is working with North Wales Police to pilot a new scheme which provides direct access to the drivers' register through handheld devices for road traffic purposes. Police are able to confirm the information provided by the driver is consistent with their record on the drivers' register. This initiative will also benefit motorists who do not carry their driving licence as their entitlement to drive can be checked at the roadside, rather than producing their driving licence at their nearest police station.

  2.5  It also shares vehicle data with other public sector enforcement agencies, for instance local authorities and Transport for London (TfL) for enforcement of traffic, parking, and London congestion charge offences.

  2.6  Data may also be released to other Government Departments. An example of this sharing is with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which is entitled to information under the Taxes Management Act 1970.

  2.7  In the private sector the Department shares data with parking enforcement companies and others that can show "reasonable cause" to receive the data, and with car rental companies where the individual gives their consent to the data being shared.


  3.1  The Department and its Agencies utilise ANPR technology to enforce the law against those who evade VED and non-compliant hauliers and bus and coach operators. The great majority of its ANPR and CCTV cameras are used to manage traffic on the strategic road network of motorways and principal trunk roads in England.

  3.2  DfT supports the use of police ANPR cameras in their drive to deny criminals the use of the road. In order to help the police target their on-road enforcement against non-compliant vehicles and their keepers, DVLA provides "hotlists" of those vehicles with no VED and also those with no currently registered keeper. Helping the police to target law breakers in this way ensures that the vast majority of law abiding motorists are not troubled.

  3.3  DfT is also responsible for policy on safety cameras, though the cameras are owned and operated by Safety Camera Partnerships which are made up of local authorities, police and HM Courts Service in England and Wales.


  3.4  DVLA has 15 ANPR camera vehicles in use throughout the UK. These are used either static at the roadside or whilst patrolling on roads to detect unlicensed vehicles. The system is Type Approved by the Home Office and provides photographic evidence of unlicensed vehicles being used on the road. The images are downloaded and used by DVLA to prosecute offenders. The information is used only by DVLA, and if the vehicle is licensed, the information is dropped after 24 hours with no record kept. The on-board computer is updated every 14 days with a new database of unlicensed vehicles. This database is also shared with those Local Authorities and police forces with devolved powers to clamp and impound unlicensed vehicles on behalf of the Secretary of State. It is also shared with VOSA for use with their ANPR vehicles.


  3.5  VOSA currently has 8 ANPR camera vehicles in GB. This is due to increase to 21 vehicles shortly. They are used to identify, stop and investigate non-compliant commercial vehicles and those suspected of operating illegally. Their ANPR systems utilise their own intelligence databases and the database of unlicensed vehicles from DVLA.

  3.6  VOSA also operate ANPR systems at a number of locations on the motorway network which are linked to weigh-in-motion sensors embedded in the carriageway. The sensors identify overweight commercial vehicles and those suspected of being loaded incorrectly. The ANPR image identifies the suspect vehicle and VOSA officers stop and investigate the vehicle at a safe place on the motorway.

Highways Agency ANPR and CCTV Cameras

  3.7  The HA uses ANPR and CCTV cameras to monitor traffic flows and collect anonymised data for traffic management purposes. Currently there are 1,133 ANPR cameras and 1,300 CCTV cameras deployed on the strategic road network, though precise numbers can vary, for instance because of disruption during roadworks.

  3.8  As well as monitoring traffic flow, information from the cameras is used to respond to incidents on the network to ensure that travellers have safe, reliable and informed journeys.

  3.9  The HA operates two principal ANPR systems—the National Traffic Control Centre (currently 1,033 cameras) and the "Birmingham Box" network of 100 cameras in total including 42 which are operated by the HA. The NTCC cameras are owned and operated by Traffic Information Services Ltd/Serco on behalf of HA through a PFI contract. These will be handed over to HA during 2011. The "Birmingham Box" is split into a network of 42 cameras installed for the M42 Active Traffic Management Project, and of 58 cameras (HA "TAME" project), which have been transferred to the Central Motorway Police Group in the Midlands. The HA do not collect information from these and are no longer responsible for their operation.

  3.10  The HA operates 1,300 CCTV cameras, typically at key strategic locations, at regular intervals along the motorway, and at a few locations on the trunk road network, providing real time traffic information to the NTCC and seven Regional Control Centres (RCCs).

  3.11  These cameras enable the HA and emergency services to be aware of road conditions and help them deal with real-time traffic flow and incident information quickly and efficiently. As well as management of major incidents and congestion, CCTV cameras also provide a rapid overview of network conditions providing up-to-the-minute information for traffic management services and the media.

  3.12  RCCs currently only record CCTV imagery for a variety of pre-determined purposes that could include network asset protection; operational procedures & protocols; incidents occurring on the network; and Health and Safety compliance.

Safety Cameras

  3.13  Although DfT is responsible for policy on safety cameras, they are owned and operated by Safety Camera Partnerships in England and Wales. These are made up of local authorities, police and HM Courts Service. From 1 April 2007 local partnerships have greater freedom and flexibility to deploy safety cameras where they are felt to be the appropriate solution to particular road safety problems. The police use their access to DVLA vehicles data to identify the keeper of a vehicle found to be speeding at safety camera sites.


  4.1  The Department takes the safeguarding of personal data extremely seriously. Clarity about the legal authority under which data may be shared, including under the Data Protection Act, is critical. The Department also consults closely with the Information Commissioners' Office.

  4.2  Where there is regular sharing of data in bulk with other Government Departments and Agencies, for example by DVLA, a Memorandum of Understanding is put in place detailing the principles and responsibilities surrounding the data release. An example of such an arrangement is that with TfL to allow that body to enforce the London congestion charge.

  4.3  Other ad-hoc requests for data from other areas of Government are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. These are considered very carefully to ensure the release is lawful and in accordance with DfT policy.

  4.4  Following a review of the release of vehicles register information 14 new measures, announced by the Minister for Transport in July 2006, have been implemented. These are designed to protect vehicle keepers from misuse of their information and provide clear and robust complaint procedures where misuse is alleged, while allowing those who do have reasonable cause to get the data they need. Individuals who apply must provide detailed information and evidence to justify their enquiry.

  4.5  DfT and its Agencies also have internal controls in place to safeguard the use of data, to ensure that audit trails exist to identify users of data, and to guard against mis-use of data. Breaches of data security are treated very seriously, and where applicable are reported to the Information Commissioner's Office and the police for investigation and action.

November 2007

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