Wednesday, 7 October 2015

ParkingEye subject to data protection complaint from Alexander Owens

Alexander John Owens LLB is an ex-senior investigating officer with the ICO (Information Commissioners Office), and is the same 'Alec' Owens who testified before the Lord Leveson inquiry on Operation Motorman. You would therefore expect him to be something of an expert on data protection.

Several months ago he helped a colleague who visited a service station twice but was issued a parking charge by ParkingEye for one long stay. He advised the colleague to write to ParkingEye, explain what happened and bring to their attention this obvious technical error with their system. He also expected ParkingEye to rectify the problem to ensure it could never happen to any other innocent motorist. The charge was duly withdrawn.

More recently his daughter experienced the same issue. She regularly travels past Welcome Break Charnock Richard-Chorley in the morning and often pulls in for a coffee or petrol. She was therefore distressed to receive a parking charge notice accusing her of staying for over 48 hours at the services. Obviously ParkingEye's systems had failed again.

This is a fundamental problem with ParkingEye's ANPR systems compounded by their failure to use industry available methods to prevent this happening. Numberplates can be misread for many reasons, including good weather, bad weather and ParkingEye's systems inability to cope with the position of numberplate fixings.  The most common reason for failure is a close following vehicle which obscures the numberplate.
This example from a ParkingEye charge notice illustrates how it happens. If the following car was a bit closer, the numberplate would have been obscured and its entry missed out. The same would have happened if the car in front was a van or lorry - the straighter back would cut out the last few letters of the plate.

This is especially prevalent at service stations where vans and lorries are more common than at for instance retail shopping car parks.

Essentially the problem is caused because the cameras are not high enough, and are not pointed down at a steep enough an angle. The higher the camera, the less chance the vehicle will be obscured. Of course, it still could be obscured. The ultimate solution, as used at Bristol Airport drop off, is to use barriers on entry and exist that read the numberplate before the barrier raises. However, barriers are not practical in all situations. A cheap and easy alternative is to bury an induction coil in the road and take a series of photographs each time a vehicle passes, whether or not a numberplate has been read. This would provide a failsafe record so that parking company employees could check these photographs and not issue a charge if any doubt is present.

ParkingEye are of course well aware that their systems have a problem. They record instances of vehicles arriving without apparently leaving and leaving without arriving. These are caused by failing  to detect either an entry or exit. The number of these mismatches gives ParkingEye an estimate of how good or bad their system is at each site. Large numbers of mismatches mean the cameras are faulty or badly positioned.

The Prankster has previously reported on a victim accused of staying a long time in a car park. They withdrew the charge when the victim send them the tracker data from their vehicle, proving it had visited twice.

The Prankster has also reported on a victim issued a ticket for arriving at a service station on one side of the motorway and leaving on the other!

Despite knowing their systems are faulty ParkingEye continue to issue charges and even pursue victims to court. In their court documents they try and obfuscate matters and bamzoole the judge by referring to the accuracy of the timestamp.

Of course ParkingEye are well aware that the accuracy of the ANPR timestamp is not the issue.The problem is the missed numberplates. Although ParkingEye refer to 19 stages of checking not once have they explained exactly what these checks are, or how they help with the problem of missed numberplates.

The 19 checks do not appear to be particularly robust. The Prankster has helped with one case where ParkingEye told POPLA that a motorist had only visited once. POPLA believed ParkingEye and refused the appeal. However at the letter before claim stage they claimed the motorist had visited twice. After pointing out this failure in their 19 stages of checking, ParkingEye dropped the charge. No doubt many other innocent motorists without the Prankster's help would have caved in and paid the charge.

The situation therefore is that ParkingEye are both negligent and reckless when they apply for keeper data from the DVLA in the full knowledge that their systems are faulty and that they have done nothing to prevent these errors. These are offences against the data protection act.

Mr Owens therefore wrote to ParkingEye, and will be lodging complaints to the DVLA and ICO. His letter follows.

Mr Owens obviously knows a thing or two about data protection. The Prankster therefore advises other motorists whose data has been recklessly accessed when it should not have been to consider following his lead and complaining to the ICO and the DVLA. They should also consider requesting compensation from the operator under section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1999.

Now that Mr Owens has informed the DVLA of the problem, they will be similarly negligent and reckless if they keep issuing keeper data for ParkingEye queries without putting checks and balances in place.

The problem is not confined to ParkingEye or to ANPR systems. ANPR Ltd, who have since been expelled from the British Parking Association, have been known to request keeper data and pursue the keeper even when the driver has previously written to them confirming they were the driver and giving their address.

In that circumstance there is no legal reason to request keeper data because the keeper is not liable for parking charges if the driver name and address is known before proceedings begin.

The problem is also not confined to BPA (or ex BPA) members. Parkshield Collection Ltd, an IPC member, also have form for pursuing the keeper when the driver is known to them. This is an offence under the IPC code of practice which can  result in 6-12 sanction points.

Happy Parking

The Parking Prankster


  1. Wonder what a subject access request would return ?

  2. I wonder if he's seen the award made in Vidal Hall vs Google which is a DPA case where they were awarded £750 for distress.

  3. The problem of double dipping is not the only thing of concern. Most car parks allow a blue badge holder to stay longer than a set period applicable to other drivers. However since it's an ANPR system there's no way that a disabled driver can be identified. A Notice to Owner is thus obtained without due cause and will mostly be paid upon threat of prosecution.
    My own poorly constructed Youtube clip of such a situation in an Asda car park shows that even Asda don't know how to prevent this from happening.

    The use of blanket ANPR is at best poorly thought out in relation to where it's placed, what it's limitations are and how reliable it is in less favourable situations, perhaps even a heavy fog at a motorway service station.

    It's a fact that a lot of people will shortly be getting tickets at the time of the autumn clock changes as some ANPR systems don't update the times in the system they are attached to. I saw a stream of people at the customer service desk at Asda last year all with PCN's in their hands.

    1. Picture quality a little low, but what a blinding vid!
      It seems obvious that the parking company are paying lip service to the disabled community, and probably sending them unfair parking tickets as well.

  4. I simply love Mr Owens!!!

  5. I suspect that this letter and the follow up with the ICO actually investigating may be the start of single biggest setback that the ANPR PPCs have ever seen.

  6. Maybe they'll be doing a 20th stage check on their ANPR pictures from now on, but somehow I doubt it.

  7. Are you aware that one of conditions you agree to when parking on a PE car park is that they can sell the data they have gained to third parties?

  8. Is it illegal to cover up your number plate before entering a PE car park, or any other PPC car park for that matter?

    1. not if you are on private land

    2. Providing the public have no access to that private land. Which they do in a private car park.

    3. Got case law? There's nothing in about public/private, or about covering a number plate.

      It always needs to be fitted, and it only needs to be fitted.

  9. @ The Prankster

    Any news on this one please?

  10. Very interested, I received a P_Eye PCN for 14 hours I didn't spend in Corley services Coventry. As above I regularly stop on the the way home. Apparently I entered at 7:50 pm 6th September and left at 9:40am the morning 7th September when I was at work 50 miles away. However both images are taken in the dark (at night) and not one at night and one in the daylight so in this instance it is clearly a wrong time stamp. Looked at DVLA page but can't yet find a complaints link. I checked my work swipe access and email and can prove I was not at the services. However it also took 5 weeks to send the PCN out so I should be safe, but I would like to follow it up.

  11. Try and also

    Make sure you appeal to parkingeye and then POPLA, otherwise their systems file a court claim

  12. Of course you can always enter the car park in reverse, the picture won't prove if you are comming or going.

  13. Is there any word of an outcome on Mr Owens complaint???