The Home Secretary has ordered a review into the use of spy cameras which can track car number plates, after anti-terror cameras were secretly installed in Birmingham neighbourhoods with large Muslim populations.
Theresa May told MPs she had decided to examine the use of automatic number plate recognition cameras following the farcical scenes in Birmingham, which included bags being placed over the cameras to reassure angry residents that they had not been turned on.
West Midlands Police installed 169 automatic number plate recognition cameras and 49 CCTV cameras in wards including Sparkbrook, Kings Heath, Moseley and Washwood Heath, as part of a scheme called Project Champion.
Police insist the cameras are there to combat crime and anti social behaviour, but they were funded with £3 million from the Association of Chief Police Officer’s Terrorism and Alliance Matters fund, which gives money specifically to anti-terror projects.
Residents have accused police of attempting to monitor the city’s Muslim community, while councillors claimed they were not properly consulted.
Ms May was urged to act in the House of Commons by MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green), who asked her: “I understand that more than £3 million has been spent on cameras that are now covered with plastic bags. Does she intend to unmask the bureaucrat who is responsible for that fiasco?”
The Home Secretary told him she had decided to include automatic number plate recognition cameras in a review which the Government had already announced into the use of ordinary CCTV cameras.
She said: “A discussion is now taking place between the local police force and local communities about automatic number plate recognition cameras in Birmingham, and that is one reason why we intend, in looking at regulation on CCTV, to include automatic number plate recognition.”
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition is reviewing CCTV cameras as part of a drive to protect civil liberties, which the government claims were undermined by the last Labour government.
But Ms May faced opposition from some of her own backbenchers, who claimed cameras had an important role cutting crime.
Questioning a junior Home Office Minister, Black Country MP Margot James (Con Stourbridge) said: “Can he give an assurance that future regulation will not deter the proper use of CCTV that my constituents in Stourbridge feel is essential in the battle against crime?”