Councils have been granted access to the DVLA's huge database of drivers in order to catch anti-social and environmental criminals, an article by the Daily Mail has revealed.
Those found dropping litter, making too much noise, fly-tipping, allowing dog fouling, and other offences, may well be discovered through their details registered with the DVLA, linked to their vehicle number plate.
Council officials have obtained the details of some 270,000 motorists.
The original idea was to allow access by councils for the purpose of reporting abandoned vehicles. However this was recently extended to allow 24-hour access for the policing of "environmental crime". Now - councils are making 700 checks are made every day.
- Test Valley Council in Hampshire used the DVLA system to attempt to trace a graffiti incident.
- Chorley Council in Cheshire used the DVLA system to trace the owner of a car that was found to be leaking petrol.
- Bexley Council in London looked at records 44 times last year in a bid to track people illegally advertising cars for sale in the street.
The system is also used when members of the public note down a car registration after spotting others' throwing litter, etc.
Critics say that the activity is another instance of unfair 'big brother' behaviour on the part of government agencies.
Phil Booth, of the NO2ID campaigning organisation, which aims to expose threats to liberty and privacy in the 'database state', said of the system: "this is incredible and terrifying. What we are seeing are powers which are brought in for one purpose being abused time and again for relatively minor offences."
But not everybody agrees - after all, if a crime is being committed against the public, the perpetrator deserves discovery and subsequent punishment - nobody likes to see litter or dog mess on our roadsides. And those who aren't committing crimes need not worry so long as they're not committing an offence.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "originally conceived to help authorities better deal with abandoned vehicles it has now been enhanced to allow enquires to assist the investigation of other environmental offences, where a vehicle is involved."
However they also stress that a car number plate alone is not enough to fine offenders or convict criminals, and say that other evidence and an admission of guilt will probably also be necessary.