Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) Networks has said sorry for undue alarm caused by the appearance of CCTV cameras in mid-Tyrone, assuring people they were for “traffic survey, not surveillance”.
It said it did not conduct this type of work and that a Scotland-based consultant was engaged to install the cameras and complete the survey.
Members of the public spotted the devices at Cashel Bridge, Crockanboy Road, Aughnamirigan Road and Greencastle Road.
Some were fixed to telegraph poles and other similar structures, apparently without permission.
Independent councillor Emmet McAleer contacted a range of agencies, including Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s planning section, BT and the PSNI, to find out who was responsible, but none had any knowledge of the devices.
However, the Crown Estate advised the cameras were erected as part of a traffic survey in connection with a 40km powerline planning application by NIE Networks.
The PSNI said it neither owned nor erected the cameras.
A spokesperson added: “Police established this was a private initiative carried out by a contractor in relation to a planning application/traffic survey.
"The contractor has since removed the cameras. The Department for Infrastructure is aware.”
The department said a councillor made it aware of the cameras on May 14.
A spokesperson added: “The department is not investigating as the placement of such devices, should they require planning permission, is a matter for the local council to determine.”
When contacted, NIE Networks initially said: “Cameras were used for a short period to record traffic volumes on the public road network in relation to a planning application associated with a proposed electricity connection.
"This is a common form of data collection and all footage is immediately destroyed once the traffic counts are complete.”
However, members of the public remained concerned around the policy in place for authorisation of the cameras, privacy and potential human rights breaches.
When these points were put to NIE Networks, a spokesperson apologised “for any undue alarm caused as a result of this traffic survey”.
They added: “We would reassure members of the public that the use of cameras, such as these to conduct traffic surveys, is standard practice.
"In this instance, cameras were installed by a specialist traffic consultant for the express purpose of counting vehicles and classifying vehicle types on the public road network over a 12-hour period.
“This traffic survey forms an important element of an environmental impact assessment pertaining to a proposed electricity connection associated with a planning application, as required by the Department of Infrastructure.”
Further issues were raised with NIE Networks, including the rules around the gathering of information such as number plates and adherence to the Regulation and Investigative Powers Act (Ripa).
NIE Networks said that while a traffic survey of this nature captured vehicle classifications and volumes, registrations were not recorded.
It was argued that Ripa did not apply because the project was “a traffic survey only, not surveillance”.
In respect of the installation of the devices under cover of darkness and apparently without the knowledge of statutory agencies, it emerged a consultant working on the project was delayed when travelling from Scotland on May 12, which had a knock-on effect on installation.
This member of staff then “worked into the night to ensure installation was complete in time for the commencement of planned traffic counts at 7am the following morning”.
NIE Networks stressed the consultancy firm employed for the project was experienced, with contact details clearly displayed on each camera.
Councillor McAleer said questions remained despite the statements.
“Members of the public remain very concerned and extremely sceptical at this course of events," he added.
"Had statutory agencies been aware, it would have greatly assuaged suspicions. Instead, it was a revolving door going from agency to agency.
“Who is responsible for ensuring recorded data is appropriately disposed of?
"Why were the devices permitted to be fixed as they were, [with] NIE Networks seemingly the only people to know?
“I will be making further enquiries into this important matter, which has not been handled well at all.”