Feeds

DVLA says council snoopers are free to take the WEE

Gov officials just doing their job, ma'am

High performance access to file storage

Government officials hit back at accusations last week that they were encouraging councils to break the law and snoop on local residents, claiming instead that not only are they entitled to do so, but that they are required to by law.

A report in last week’s Sunday Express pillories local councils for acting unlawfully and misusing the DVLA database to check up on residents suspected of offences – including horse fouling, littering and owning out-of-control dogs - that have nothing to do with motoring.

As a result, they claim, several councils have been banned from accessing the database.

A little checking suggests that the two events are completely unrelated, and that councils' use of the database in this way is a policy actively advocated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

At the eye of this storm is the DVLA’s Web Enabled Enquiry (WEE) System. This enables local government and police to identify a registered owner of a vehicle from a supplied registration number.

Official bodies wishing to use WEES must register with the DVLA – and must also undergo regular audit by officials from the DVLA to ensure their use of the system corresponds with principles of good data governance. Measures audited include whether the system has current anti-virus protection in place, whether it is fully password protected, and whether an audit trail for inquiries is available. There are also strictures against "fishing": using a partial number plate to locate a potential offender.

It is in respect of these rules that a number of councils - including Nottingham City, Corby in Northamptonshire, Hull in East Yorkshire and Stroud in Gloucestershire - have been temporarily barred from using the system.

However, these have since hit back angrily, claiming that suspensions were short-lived and in respect of technical issues, rather than misuse of the database. A spokesman for Nottingham claimed the report was "inaccurate".

Corby Borough Council spoke to the DVLA who, they say, confirmed that they have not been barred or suspended. Stroud claimed a short technical suspension, following its failure to return a letter in time.

This was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the DVLA, who told us: "In most cases, suspensions were related to mismanagement and record keeping, rather than inappropriate access."

Meanwhile, Hull Council Chief Carl Minns was reported in the East Riding Mail as furious with the Express. He said: "It's absolute nonsense to suggest the council has been using DVLA data to spy on people.

"We only ever use it for detecting owners of abandoned vehicles. If we did use it for other persons it would be a very serious matter and the police could get involved.

"It is disappointing to see this in the national press as it's fundamentally not true."

Hull were suspended briefly – but again, for technical reasons.

So all just a storm in a teacup? Not quite. Neither Councillor Minns nor the Express are right to suggest such snooping is unlawful. Quite the opposite.

First off, the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 permit the DVLA to disclose "any particulars contained in the register available for use by a local authority for any purpose connected with the investigation of an offence".

This is neatly capped by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which provides Councils with extensive powers to clamp down on litter, graffiti, waste and unruly dogs. Or, as a briefing produced by DEFRA in 2007 (pdf) puts it: "The system (WEE) can be used to get vehicle keeper details where a vehicle is abandoned or causing a nuisance, or used in connection with fly-tipping, littering, dog fouling or fly-posting".

A spokeswoman for the DVLA confirms this is not, as the Express puts it, an example of councils acting outside their powers, but quite the contrary: councils doing exactly what the government ordered. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.