Disagreements within government forced ministers to drop measures handing the police data on millions of individuals’ car journeys from legislation now before parliament, leaked Home Office papers show.
Last week, home secretary Jacqui Smith lifted Data Protection Act restrictions to allow the Metropolitan Police to use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) data collected through London’s congestion charging scheme in counter-terrorism work.
Notes of internal Whitehall discussions inadvertently revealed by the Home Office show that using the data for wider crime-fighting purposes unconnected with terrorism is also on the agenda.
They highlight disagreements between the Home Office and Department for Transport over certificates signed by Smith exempting the police and Transport for London from the 1998 Data Protection Act.
But the leaked notes also reveal that Smith signed the certificates because earlier plans to include ANPR data sharing in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill fell through.
The notes reveal the lack of agreement over legislative measures within government.
The Home Office “had proposed to legislate for the transfer of bulk ANPR data”, the notes say, but police minister Tony McNulty agreed to delay the measures until the third parliamentary session “as collective policy agreement has not been secured in time for publication of the bill”.
The bill – published on 26 June, the day before Gordon Brown became prime minister – is now before parliament.
Using the Data Protection Act exemption certificates “will be a temporary measure if we are successful in legislating in the third session”, the notes say.
A new criminal justice bill is included in Brown’s draft legislative programme, issued in advance of the traditional Queen’s Speech.
But although a raft of new government data sharing powers is included in Brown’s proposed legislation, the published programme does not mention such powers in the proposed criminal justice bill.
Instead, measures have been slipped into proposed legislation on terrorism, education and skills and the sale of student loans.
In the meantime, the Home Office has promised proposals to ensure the sharing of ANPR data with the police is “subject to a robust regulatory framework which ensures public openness”.