Possible legal challenge to spy cameras in Muslim areas

A counterterrorism surveillance project targeted at two Muslim neighbourhoods in Birmingham could be halted after human rights lawyers pledged to seek a judicial review.

There were angry scenes at two public meetings in the city this week, when officials were confronted over the findings of a Guardian investigation into the scheme to gather data about vehicles entering Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath.

Under Project Champion, the suburbs will be monitored by 150 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras – three times more than in the entire city centre. The cameras form “rings of steel”, meaning residents cannot enter or leave the areas without their cars being tracked. Data will be stored for two years.

Testing of cameras has begun, but plans to go live in early August are in jeopardy after lawyers acting for Liberty began gathering evidence for a legal challenge.

Lawyers from Liberty said Project Champion’s focus on predominantly Muslim areas may constitute a breach of rights to non-discrimination under article 14 of the Human Rights Act. “Spying on a whole community will only hamper efforts to tackle extremism,” said Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty. “This misguided scheme must not go ahead.”

The absence of any formal public consultation could also form grounds for a legal challenge, she added.

Guardian, 11 June 2010