Nosey Parkers

8 Oct

Auditors from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency were so concerned last year about Newham’s misuse of its online database that the council’s access was suspended for 12 months.

This was the third time that the council’s access had been blocked since 2010.

The DVLA provides a Web Enabled Enquiry (WEE) link to Local Authorities solely for the purpose of finding out who owns a vehicle suspected of “offences relating to the environment.” These include abandoned cars, untaxed vehicles, driving in a bus lane and causing a nuisance.

Information released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that during audits carried out in January and October 2012, DVLA inspectors found:

  • Newham’s operators were unaware of the correct data retention period.
  • Not all accesses to the WEE link were being properly recorded and cross-referenced to the appropriate case file.
  • There was evidence that “fishing” was taking place to try to establish the correct identity of vehicles reported to the Local Authority. The inspectors noticed that similar registration numbers were repeatedly queried with only one character or digit changed from one enquiry to the next
  • No internal reference numbers were recorded, making file retrieval difficult. As a result, some files could not be located or retrieved during the audit. Theses missing files should have contained a record of the alleged offence and, crucially, the evidence that warranted the collection of personal information.
  • Sufficient evidence of an offence often did not exist or was not seen by the operator prior to accessing vehicle keeper information
  • The correct date of event was not being used in all cases when requesting data. In one case it was wrong by 6 months.
  • Data was being requested outside the prescribed 7-day limit, contrary to Newham’s agreement with the DVLA
  • There was evidence to show that witness statements quoting differing vehicle registration marks were not being returned to the reporting officer for clarification before requesting keeper details.
  • Where an erroneous record had been accessed a hard copy of the record was being retained. This held personal information of the vehicle’s keeper, and was kept on file by Newham despite the person not having committed any offence.

This is incredibly disturbing.

Newham council believes it is entitled to stick its nose wherever it wants. It already spies on residents with the most extensive network of CCTV cameras of any local authority in the UK. Now it thinks it is acceptable to have officers hoover up personal information from other government databases, playing fast and loose with the rules.

People who have committed no offence are having their details searched for by council officers and kept on file. The council’s failure to keep proper records means that we have no idea how extensive this activity was. But we know about the mindset that led to it.

When the Mayor is interviewed he often talks about “his residents.” This is no mere rhetorical flourish. He really believes it: we are his.

The year-long suspension will be lifted later this month. It comes to something that local residents have to rely on the DVLA to keep their information safe from the nosey parkers at Building 1000.

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One Response to “Nosey Parkers”

  1. Birdman October 8, 2013 at 19:59 #

    this is incredibly disturbing and if a police officer abused the system like this, they would expect to be disciplined, possibly dismissed and/or prosecuted. Scandals in the 1980’s meant that procedures around the use of DVLA records by Police were tightened and I have always been uneasy about other authorities having access. Your article proves the point and I would hope that the DVLA will now audit LBN more frequently. Your article does not say whether anyone in LBN has been disciplined or prosecuted and I would hope that Nick Bracken, as a former senior and distinguished police officer, will have cleared up the problems.

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