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OSC spurns queries on London charge zone data export

'Not appropriate to answer your questions...'

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Pictures of cars and number plates from London's congestion charge zone, even outside of its operating hours, can now be exported wholesale to the US authorities, it was claimed yesterday - but regulators refuse to answer questions about it.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced last July that the Metropolitan Police would be given bulk data from the Transport for London system. Shortly before this, however, she signed a "special certificate" which allowed this data to be passed from the police to other groups outside Europe. As this permission was effectively concealed in the earlier certificate, she is now being accused of concealing the move from Parliament.

UK Police are exempted from data protection laws when investigating suspect vehicles, but this gives them access to data on millions of routine vehicle journeys.

Function creep - where systems set up for one purpose such as regulating traffic or reducing air pollution in central London, become a law and order resource without further debate or scrutiny - is one of the main concerns of privacy groups.

The attitude of the regulators - the Office of Surveillance Commissioners - is revealed in an email exchange between SpyBlog and Chief Surveillance Commissioner Sir Christopher Rose.

The regulator was asked for his view on the original function creep - the mass data transfer from Transport for London systems to the Met Police announced last year. The Home Office exempted this action from the Data Protection Act and SpyBlog wanted to know why.

The reply thanks SpyBlog for its letter and says: "He notes your interest in these matters but does not think it appropriate to answer your questions.

"I am sorry I cannot be more helpful." As the blog notes, so much for independent scrutiny...

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