Municipal authorities find another use for anti-terror CCTV: Collecting parking ticket fines

Published 13 March 2006

Residents of the neighborhood of Camden, London were delighted when the London council decided to locate a CCTV camera in their area. The declared purpose was to make the streets safer from muggers, drug dealers, burglars, and car thieves. The “25,000 swiveling spy camera made them feel they were at last getting a tangible benefit from Camden’s rising council tax. It did not take long for them to discover it was going to cost a lot more, and in ways they had not expected. The camera proved not very capable at identifying suspects lurking in the shadows, but it was very good at reading residents’ car number plates. Since the Albert Street camera was installed last year, its operators have issued 2,558 penalty notices for a range of minor motoring offences, such as double parking to unload groceries, or allegedly blocking the flow of traffic.

This is part of a new and fast-spreading trend that already has a name: Reciprocation. The reciprocation policy allows anticrime CCTV cameras in London to be used for traffic enforcement, and traffic cameras for crime control. What began as a pilot study will soon be joined by thirteen London boroughs, including Westminster, which already makes annual profits in excess of “30 million from the issuing of parking tickets. Thousands of cameras installed originally to counter IRA terrorism or robbery may well end up trapping more motorists than criminals. Indeed, the use of CCTV cameras for traffic enforcement has been so successful it is likely to be taken up nationally. The Traffic Management Act sets out powers for local authorities outside London to use CCTV against drivers, and the Department for Transport wants them to do so from 2008.

-read more in this report