Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  Q360  Mr Winnick: Dr Hickey, there are a lot of cameras all around the place operated via the Highways Agency. In the very useful paper that you circulated you give at paragraph 1.4 details. Apparently there are 1,133 automated number plate recognition cameras and 1,300 CCTV cameras. How far are motorists in the position to be able to check on the website who is actually responsible for those cameras?

  Dr Hickey: I think those cameras are the responsibility of the Highways Agency, but of course the Police have many other cameras and there are many other people—local authorities and others—who have cameras. I think those ones you referred to are all Highways Agency cameras.

  Q361  Mr Winnick: How far would motorists be in a position to contact the Agency because presumably in some circumstances they may wish to do so?

  Dr Hickey: They can certainly contact the Agency. I do not know offhand whether on the website it would tell you where each camera was. I suspect not, partly because of course some of them are moved and are mobile.

  Q362  Mr Winnick: I will come to criminality, which is the purpose of these cameras, they are not there for fun and no doubt they serve a positive reason. However, would it not be useful for the ordinary citizen to be able to find out from the website precisely what is what?

  Dr Hickey: Yes, I accept that point.

  Q363  Mr Winnick: Is it intended to have more sophisticated technology in time? It is not the end, is it, these cameras which I have mentioned a number of which are in use? Are they going to increase? Are there going to be other different kinds of cameras?

  Dr Hickey: The need for cameras certainly has been going up. For example, if we go further down the route of active traffic management on the network, the sort of system with traffic controls that we now see on the M42 around Birmingham where you have got hard shoulder running for example at peak hours and tighter speed controls and a need to watch extremely carefully if incidents were to happen, then clearly that sort of operational system relies quite heavily on these cameras. If we go further down the route of that kind of regime on the trunk roads, then certainly the need for active management, including cameras, is likely to increase.

  Q364  Mr Winnick: Just tell us, Mr Hickey, how long has this been happening with the cameras? How many years back? Presumably there was a time, including in the post-War period when people would drive without cameras and investigations and so on and so forth?

  Dr Hickey: I can tell you from personal recollection that in the 1960s cameras were introduced in Durham City for the control of traffic coming up from the bridges to the market-place because I was a boy at the time and it was a very big deal and we used to go and stand behind the policeman's box and look over his shoulder at these cameras, it was a major novelty, and Durham prided itself on being one of the first towns to have that sort of camera. That was the 1960s, I think. On the national network I am afraid I do not know offhand when they started.

  Q365  Mr Winnick: We are talking about 40 years.

  Dr Hickey: Cameras have been around certainly to my personal knowledge—

  Q366  Mr Winnick: And all the indications are that it is escalating, is it not?

  Dr Hickey: On the roads but also more widely in local authority communities and so on cameras have certainly increased substantially.

  Q367  Mr Winnick: I said a moment ago—and I do not think there is any disagreement—that they are not there for fun; they are to deal with those who break the law and outright criminality, but what I want to ask you is, how do you assess the potential benefits for example of these number plate recognition cameras which I have mentioned compared with the risk of mistakes or criminal misuse—that is going further—of transport databases?

  Dr Hickey: Could I first just correct you on the Highways Agency cameras. The Highways Agency cameras are not used for criminality in quite the sense I think you are implying. They are actually used for traffic flow control. That is quite important. For example, they do not record the full number plate of the individual vehicle, which of course for criminal-type purposes you need to have. The Highways Agency ANPR cameras only record three digits, which is enough to say at the next point down the road those same three digits can be identified and from that you can calculate what the flow of traffic is. That is not enough to tell you it was my car or someone else's car.[1]

  Q368  Mr Winnick: So it would not help the Police?

  Dr Hickey: It would not help the Police, no.

  Q369  Mr Winnick: What would help the Police in carrying out their investigations?

  Dr Hickey: For the Police's purposes you need the full number plate and of course the Police do have ANPR cameras that show the full number plate. They are both ANPR cameras but they are used in different ways and for some different purposes, and we must be clear.

  Q370  Mr Winnick: So the motorist—and I am not saying that should not be so, we recognise all the criminality that could be involved—on all these roads is constantly being watched?

  Dr Hickey: That is right. As far as criminality and so on is concerned, the ANPR cameras, which are particularly relevant to that are the Police's own ANPR cameras and they have a lot of those, as you know. In addition, from the Department's point of view, as you will have seen from the memorandum, both DVLA and VOSA have a small number of ANPR cameras, nothing like the Police scale. Those are used for identifying vehicles which are not taxed or, in the case of VOSA, have other HGV concerns about them, so those do identify the individual vehicle.

  Q371  Mr Winnick: That is a very useful answer. In terms of our inquiry we would be right presumably to say that the use of cameras and such technology is likely to increase rather than decrease?

  Dr Hickey: I think that is plausible.

  Q372  Mr Winnick: More than plausible?

  Dr Hickey: Yes.

  Chairman: I shall bring Mr Davies in now for a quick supplementary.

  Q373  David Davies: Just to turn around one of Mr Winnick's questions, the whole point of ANPR readers is that they can track a licence plate registered to a criminal and find out where on the motorway for example that person is exiting so the Police can follow that up. Would it be useful to advertise to the whole world where ANPR cameras are located or would it not defeat the whole purpose, which is to be able to track people who should not be on the road?

  Dr Hickey: You are quite right that for Police cameras which do that sort of thing certainly it would be quite counter-productive to tell people but for traffic monitoring purposes there is not that same sensitivity, so it is a more open question.

  Q374  Chairman: Could I ask you to comment on the new proposals that passengers on domestic flights between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland are now to be subject to identity checks; is that coming from your Department or the Home Office?

  Dr Hickey: I confess that is not a subject I am familiar with. I can come back to you and tell you which department is behind that.

  Q375  Chairman: I think it is a Home Office Statutory Instrument but obviously the Department for Transport would need to have been consulted.

  Dr Hickey: That is probably right, yes.

  Q376  Chairman: Would you drop us a note on that?

  Dr Hickey: I will drop you a note.

  Chairman: Thank you so much. Patrick Mercer now has the first question to Mr Burton for Transport for London.

  Q377  Patrick Mercer: Has Transport for London itself commissioned any research into the effectiveness of CCTV as a deterrent to crime on the transport network?

  Mr Burton: We have not undertaken any specific research on that. We have done a fair amount of research on passengers' views of CCTV.

  Q378  Patrick Mercer: Who are very reassured by it, are they not?

  Mr Burton: Indeed, all our research, as you say, shows that passengers see two primary ways of making them feel safe on the network: visible, uniformed staff; and CCTV systems.

  Q379  Patrick Mercer: Okay, but you have not actually taken any soundings yourself as such?

  Mr Burton: We have not got any empirical research on the actual results. We have results-based analysis done in specific areas, for example the on-bus CCTV systems that we use which are primarily there for crime and disorder reduction, we have had some very positive results around that where we have identified over 2,000 individuals and convicted 2,000 individuals who have been damaging and vandalising the network. In certain areas we think we have got good results but because a lot of the systems are recently installed we have not actually undertaken any detailed research of the overall systems.

1   Note by witness: Highways Agency ANPR cameras are used for traffic management purposes and do not record the full number plate of the vehicle. However, this is not achieved by recording only three digits of the plate. The actual process is that, at the point of capture, the registration number is encrypted into a permanent non-reversible string of text. The outcome though is the same, ie vehicles passing the ANPR camera sites cannot be accurately identified or cross-referenced against other databases. But it is by the encryption mechanism rather than by dropping characters from the registration number. Back

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