A police force has been compared to the ‘Gestapo’ after guarding its borders using number plate recognition cameras to stop drivers travelling between Tiers.
North Yorkshire Police warned people could face ‘enforcement action’ if they make non-essential journeys into and out of the county.
Officers are using the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system to check travellers are not going from Tier 3 areas to Tier 2 areas to go to pubs or restaurants.
It comes after a government watchdog last month said ANPR cameras are the equivalent of being traced by MI5.
North Yorkshire Police (pictured last week) warned people could face ‘enforcement action’ if they make non-essential journeys into and out of the county
Superintendent Mike Walker said: ‘I realise there may be some confusion over what is deemed necessary in these circumstances, so I’d like to be clear here.
‘It is neither necessary or acceptable to leave a Tier 3 area and enter a lower tier area for a day trip or to visit a pub or restaurant for a meal.
‘Please also be reminded that your tier restrictions travel with you and police can take enforcement action against you, if you should breach those restrictions.’
North Yorkshire, which contains built up areas such as York, Harrogate and Skipton, is in Tier 2.
It means pubs and restaurants can open and a capped number of spectators can watch sports events indoors and outdoors.
But the region is surrounded by Tier 3 areas, with East Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire all facing steeper restrictions.
Police are concerned people under these tighter curbs are driving over boundaries to go to pubs or restaurants.
Officers have deployed safety fleet cameras with ANPR across the main routes into the county.
Superintendent Walker continued: ‘Those living in Tier 3 areas are advised not to travel out of the area unless it is necessary, such as for work or education.
‘To those living in Tier 3 areas, please do not try to side-step the tighter restrictions in your area by visiting neighbouring Tier 2 areas for a day or night out.
‘If you do, you may inadvertently bring the virus in with you and increase the chance of transmission to local residents.’
He added: ‘North Yorkshire is well-known for its hospitality and warmth, but right now we have to ask visitors to stay in their own tier area for the health and safety of our most vulnerable residents.
‘If you have a visit planned, please reschedule to a time where we are able to give you a proper welcome to our beautiful county.’
But social media users were unimpressed by the draconian measures, with one branding the force the ‘local Gestapo’ – after the Nazis secret police.
Nik Major commented on North Yorkshire Police’s Facebook: ‘The local Gestapo are at it again!’
Dave Scott wrote: ‘Absolutely ridiculous. It’s like the Jerry Springer show these rules. York will be back to tier 3 soon enough Because viruses dont stop at the border!’
Another, Robert Kowalski, posted on the site: ‘This is a f’n joke it only takes one to spread.’
Dr Sonya Jetter, who is from West Yorkshire but now lives in Holland, said: ‘Well, who would have thought at the beginning of the year that police patrols on North Yorkshire’s borders would be a real thing.’
David Pendleton from Bradford added: ‘Dim your lights, use the backroads, the border has been closed.’
Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter claimed last month police and councils can act like spies let off the leash using ANPR.
He said the system, facial recognition and sensors were so advanced it was like what spooks use to target suspects.
But he warned there was no statutory oversight for it, unlike the close regulation of the security services’ methods.
Mr Porter admitted there were huge benefits to the cameras – such as finding missing children or snaring criminals.
But he cautioned there were limited restrictions on councils and police using the technology and watchdogs had ‘no teeth’ to fight back.
Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter claimed police and councils can act like spies let off the leash due to the widespread technology
He told the Telegraph: ‘Because of technological advances and the interconnectivity of these technologies with facial recognition and sensors, the ability of the state through overt technology to track its citizens is now as powerful as that provided by covert techniques.
‘To address all of those issues in a piecemeal fashion does a disservice to the country and fails to recognise the serious impact of the technology.
‘The totality of state surveillance needs to be looked at and a stronger, principle-driven code needs to be introduced that provides for sanctions and the ability for the public to be confident this is being dealt with properly.’
Mr Porter said the country’s ANPR was now one of the ‘largest non-military databases’ in Western Europe with 60billion registrations recorded each year.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford in October caused concern when he said police could use ANPR to catch people from Covid hotspots who illegally enter the country.
Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: ‘I believe the police will have a range of techniques that they will be able to use.
‘Number plates are one of the ways in which they are able to identify cars that are travelling long distances, but that won’t be the only way.
‘They will have long-practice techniques developed earlier in the year, and they will apply those again over the weeks to come.’
Pictured is a stock photograph of three Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras in use
The Police Federation of England and Wales said ‘policing in Wales is already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ and the new measures would add ‘yet another level of complexity’.
In May, details of 8.6million car journeys were accidentally exposed on the internet after a data breach from part of Britain’s ANPR network.
The database was left unprotected and accessible without a password – potentially allowing anyone to access it and look up individual vehicle movements.
Silkie Carlo, a director of Big Brother Watch, called it an ‘astronomical data breach that has jeopardised the privacy and security of many thousands of people’.
She said: ‘The incompetent management of this appalling mass surveillance system means (its administrators) will have no idea who has had access to the data, when, how, why or what they might do with it.
‘Detailed journey records of thousands of people could be exploited by criminals and pose a particular risk in stalking and harassment contexts.
‘Councils shouldn’t be conducting this mass-scale snooping at all, let alone leaking millions of sensitive records on the internet.
‘ANPR remains dangerously unregulated and deserves serious parliamentary attention.’