North Yorkshire police spark fury by launching border patrols with number plate recognition cameras


A police force has been compared to the Gestapo after guarding its borders using number plate recognition cameras to stop drivers travelling between Tiers.

North Yorkshire Police warned people could face ‘enforcement action’ if they make non-essential journeys into and out of the county.

Under Tier 3 regulations, first-time offenders could be fined £200, with further offences leading to a doubling of fines up to a maximum of £6,400.  

North Yorkshire Police have issued 232 fines for breaches of coronavirus regulations totalling £35,000 during England’s four-week shutdown.

Officers are using the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system to check travellers are not going from Tier 3 areas to Tier 2 areas to go to pubs or restaurants.

But the move has sparked a fierce public backlash with Twitter users comparing the force to the Gestapo, the official secret police of Nazi Germany and in German-occupied Europe before and during World War Two. 

It comes after a government watchdog last month warned that police and councils can act like spies let off the leash using ANPR technology.  

In a threat to people considering crossing the border, North Yorkshire Police’s Superintendent Mike Walker warned: ‘Police can take enforcement action against you.’ He added: ‘I realise there may be some confusion over what is deemed necessary in these circumstances, so I’d like to be clear here. 

North Yorkshire Police (pictured last week) warned people could face ‘enforcement action’ if they make non-essential journeys into and out of the county

‘It is neither necessary or acceptable to leave a Tier 3 area and enter a lower tier area for a day trip or to visit a pub or restaurant for a meal.

‘Please also be reminded that your tier restrictions travel with you and police can take enforcement action against you, if you should breach those restrictions.’

North Yorkshire, which contains built up areas such as York, Harrogate and Skipton, is in Tier 2. It means pubs and restaurants can open and a capped number of spectators can watch sports events indoors and outdoors.

But the region is surrounded by Tier 3 areas, with East Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire all facing steeper restrictions.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems: What they are and how they work 

Stock photo of three Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras in use

Stock photo of three Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras in use

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (also known as ANPR) is a software that creates vehicle location data by reading vehicle registration plates.

The software first locates the number plate on a vehicle using ANPR cameras, then tries to read and interpret that number plate.

The technology then creates a log of all plates read along with the date, time and GPS location, and can then look up any plate to display information about the vehicle or driver on an operator’s screen — meaning that warnings can be given for any vehicles of interest.

While ANPR can be used in Traffic, Security and Access Control applications, police and customs use the system to check every vehicle passing a certain point.

Police are concerned people under these tighter curbs could be driving over boundaries to go to pubs or restaurants.

Officers have now deployed safety fleet cameras with ANPR across the main routes into the county.

Superintendent Walker continued: ‘Those living in Tier 3 areas are advised not to travel out of the area unless it is necessary, such as for work or education.

‘To those living in Tier 3 areas, please do not try to side-step the tighter restrictions in your area by visiting neighbouring Tier 2 areas for a day or night out.

‘If you do, you may inadvertently bring the virus in with you and increase the chance of transmission to local residents.’

He added: ‘North Yorkshire is well-known for its hospitality and warmth, but right now we have to ask visitors to stay in their own tier area for the health and safety of our most vulnerable residents.

‘If you have a visit planned, please reschedule to a time where we are able to give you a proper welcome to our beautiful county.’

But social media users were unimpressed by the draconian measures, with one branding the force the ‘local Gestapo’ – after the Nazi secret police.  

Nik Major commented on North Yorkshire Police’s Facebook: ‘The local Gestapo are at it again!’

Dave Scott wrote: ‘Absolutely ridiculous. It’s like the Jerry Springer show these rules. York will be back to tier 3 soon enough Because viruses dont stop at the border!’

Another, Robert Kowalski, posted on the site: ‘This is a f’n joke it only takes one to spread.’

Dr Sonya Jetter, who is from West Yorkshire but now lives in Holland, said: ‘Well, who would have thought at the beginning of the year that police patrols on North Yorkshire’s borders would be a real thing.’

David Pendleton from Bradford added: ‘Dim your lights, use the backroads, the border has been closed.’  

Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter claimed last month police and councils can act like spies let off the leash using ANPR.  

He said the system, facial recognition and sensors were so advanced it was like what spooks use to target suspects.

But he warned there was no statutory oversight for it, unlike the close regulation of the security services’ methods.

Mr Porter admitted there were huge benefits to the cameras – such as finding missing children or snaring criminals.   

 

But he cautioned there were limited restrictions on councils and police using the technology and watchdogs had ‘no teeth’ to fight back. 

He told the Telegraph: ‘Because of technological advances and the interconnectivity of these technologies with facial recognition and sensors, the ability of the state through overt technology to track its citizens is now as powerful as that provided by covert techniques.

‘To address all of those issues in a piecemeal fashion does a disservice to the country and fails to recognise the serious impact of the technology.

‘The totality of state surveillance needs to be looked at and a stronger, principle-driven code needs to be introduced that provides for sanctions and the ability for the public to be confident this is being dealt with properly.’

Mr Porter said the country’s ANPR was now one of the ‘largest non-military databases’ in Western Europe with 60billion registrations recorded each year.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford in October caused concern when he said police could use ANPR to catch people from Covid hotspots who illegally enter the country.

Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: ‘I believe the police will have a range of techniques that they will be able to use.

Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter claimed police and councils can act like spies let off the leash due to the widespread technology

Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter claimed police and councils can act like spies let off the leash due to the widespread technology

‘Number plates are one of the ways in which they are able to identify cars that are travelling long distances, but that won’t be the only way.

‘They will have long-practice techniques developed earlier in the year, and they will apply those again over the weeks to come.’

The Police Federation of England and Wales said ‘policing in Wales is already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ and the new measures would add ‘yet another level of complexity’.

In May, details of 8.6million car journeys were accidentally exposed on the internet after a data breach from part of Britain’s ANPR network.

The database was left unprotected and accessible without a password – potentially allowing anyone to access it and look up individual vehicle movements.

Silkie Carlo, a director of Big Brother Watch, called it an ‘astronomical data breach that has jeopardised the privacy and security of many thousands of people’.

She said: ‘The incompetent management of this appalling mass surveillance system means (its administrators) will have no idea who has had access to the data, when, how, why or what they might do with it.

‘Detailed journey records of thousands of people could be exploited by criminals and pose a particular risk in stalking and harassment contexts.

‘Councils shouldn’t be conducting this mass-scale snooping at all, let alone leaking millions of sensitive records on the internet.

‘ANPR remains dangerously unregulated and deserves serious parliamentary attention.’

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