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Mayor of London faces legal challenge over Met Police’s access to TfL road cameras

Giving Met Police access to TfL road cameras violates privacy of millions of Londoners, campaigners allege.

By Sophia Waterfield

Privacy campaigners the Open Rights Group and two Green Party officials have issued a “joint legal challenge” against Mayor of London Sadiq Khan over his decision to give the Metropolitan Police access to Transport for London’s road cameras.

The challenge argues that Khan’s decision in May to grant the Met “continued general access” to TfL’s automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPRCs) risks creating “a new police surveillance network”.

mayor of london met police road cameras
Privacy advocates are raising a legal challenge against the Mayor of London. (Photo by Matthew Morrison/iStock)

ANPRCs check the number plates of passing vehicles to identify ‘vehicles of interest’ and to enforce road-user charging schemes. TfL operates a network of 1,544 cameras to monitor and enforce charging schemes including the Congestion charge and Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).

In 2014, Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson granted the Met Police limited access to textual data from TfL’s ANPRCs. But earlier this year, Khan expanded the Met’s access to cover ‘enhanced contextual imagery data’.

This includes the colour and make of vehicles, images of drivers, and, potentially, nearby pedestrians and ‘sensitive’ buildings such as schools and hospitals, according to a letter from the complainants.

This decision was made “with a stroke of a pen” and without public consultation, the letter alleges. This violates the privacy rights of millions of Londoners, said Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group.

“As a former Human Rights lawyer, Sadiq Khan should know that his decision to grant access to the Metropolitan Police is unlawful without meaningful public consultation,” Killock said.

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The scope of this surveillance would expand further if, as proposed, TfL’s ULEZ scheme is extended to cover the whole of Greater London by the end of 2023, the letter claims.

“With plans to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of Greater London from the end of 2023, every single car, driver and pedestrian in Greater London will be subject to surveillance by the Metropolitan Police, yet Londoners have had no say in this,” Killock said.

He calls for a “proper consultation and ongoing monitoring by stakeholders”.

Mayor of London ‘ignored warnings’ on Met Police road cameras access

The complaint is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the Met’s access to ANPRCs. In 2021, an independent advisory group warned that Khan’s plans represent a “gargantuan increase of surveillance in London”. Killock said today that Khan needs to explain why he ignored the views of the IAG on ANPR road cameras.

Sian Berry, London Assembly member for the Green Party and a signatory to the complaint, said that she is deeply disappointed that the Mayor has not listened to “repeated warnings” that extending the Met’s access to ANPRCs represents a significant “increase in surveillance of Londoners”.

“I have been telling the Mayor since 2019 that sharing this data with the police is wrong and that Londoners must have their say in any decision,” Berry said. “With so many awful revelations bringing trust and confidence in our police to an all-time low, Londoners should have been asked if they would trust them with this massive database about their daily movements.”

The Met Police has faced backlash over its use of live facial recognition in London and infringements on privacy, with Big Brother Watch director of privacy Silkie Carlo saying the use of the technology has “evaded parliamentary scrutiny”.   

Outcry among privacy campaigners over AI-powered video surveillance has intensified this year. Last week, Big Brother Watch called on the Information Commissioner’s Officer to take action against retail chain Southern Co-op’s “Orwellian” use of live facial recognition in its stores.

Earlier this year, an independent inquiry commissioned by the Ada Lovelace Institute warned that new laws on biometrics, including live facial recognition, are “urgently” needed.

Read more: Campaigners lodge complaint over retail chain’s ‘Orwellian’ facial recognition

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