By Ian Lewis
Campaigners are calling for a ban on the use of CCTV and "spy cars" for parking and traffic enforcement after new figures show that local councils have used them to hit motorists with £312 million worth of fines.
Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch obtained the figures under a Freedom of Information request.
It found that at least 58 local councils are using CCTV cars - a growth of 87% over the last five years - with 36 having static CCTV to capture traffic and parking offences on film.
According to the organisation, government guidelines say that CCTV should only be used sparingly for traffic offences.
Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: "The government rightly wants to reign in this unjustified surveillance, so councils are turning to desperate arguments about public safety to justify their cameras, despite having absolutely no evidence to back up their claims. The use of CCTV and spy cars for parking enforcement should be banned.
"The fact that no councils publish proper statistics about how these cameras are used highlights that many know that their CCTV operation is about raising money, not about public safety."
Local government minister Brandon Lewis said: "It is clear that CCTV is being used to raise money in industrial volumes for town halls, breaking the constitutional principle that fines should not be used as a source of revenue.
"Unreasonable parking charges and fines push up hard-working people's cost of living.
"If parking is too expensive or difficult, shoppers will drive to out of town supermarkets or just shop online, undermining the vitality of town centres and leading to 'ghost town' high streets."
MP Nick de Bois, who wrote the foreword to Big Brother Watch's Traffic Spies report, said: "CCTV should only ever be used in exceptional circumstances, and therefore I agree with the Government that local authority use of CCTV for parking enforcement should be banned."
90% of fines issued in London
According to the report around 90% - or £285 million - of the fines based on evidence from CCTV cameras were issued in London.
It names Camden, Lambeth, Westminster, Ealing and Harrow as the five highest revenue-raising local authorities.
The report also claims that some tickets could be being issued illegally. It says some may be being issued in a CCTV control room by a traffic warden without the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act for directed surveillance being properly followed.