Is the United Kingdom really set to have Yet Another National Police Database ?
Automatic Number Plate Recognition seems to be a rapidlly expanding technology amongst the 43 or so UK Police Forces, according to a press release from the Association of Chief Police Officers
John Lettice has a good article in The Register which cites a Police Information Technology Organisation web page which lists the history of ANPR schemes.
Given the 25 to 30 million vehicles on the roads, it makes sense to use this sort of technology to try to clamp down on stolen or untaxed vehicles.
The use of mobile or fixed CCTV camera systems combined with a roadside police intercept team to conduct legal "stops and searches" of vehicles, where the grounds of "reasonable suspicion" have been provided by the ANPR lookup on the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency and Police Intelligence databases, should be a proportionate use of the technology and is to be welcomed.
However, we really do have serious concerns about using ANPR for "intelligence" rather than for "reasonable suspicion" stops and searches.
"Key points from the Strategy include:
- Development of a national infrastructure of ANPR enabled cameras and readers to cover strategic sites
- Developing a National ANPR Data Centre to analyse intelligence from ANPR readers from across the country"
Will this be a new infrastructure of roadside cameras, or will existing systems be hijacked ? Either these existing cameras are not properly justified and are under utilised, or the ANPR tasks will compete with the primary function e.g. traffic queue management
Who exactly pays for this national infrastructure ? The local council tax payers ?
Will the private sector Trafficmaster system be used or will the controversial National Roads Teleccomunications Services Project ?
- "All police forces in England and Wales having at least one dedicated ANPR intercept team by October 2005, with more to follow"
According to thus report in The Guardian, the Police Federation are worried about the decrease in Traffic Police numbers:
"He feels the new officers will be an excuse to whittle down the already dwindling ranks of traffic police, which dropped in manpower from 7,500 to 6,200 between 1998 and 2002"
whose duties, powers and training, especially for "stop and search", cannot be substituted by lower paid civilian auxilaries employed by the Highways Agency.
More ANPR camera technology is unjustifiable if there are even fewer actual Traffic Police patrols on the road.
"Using hypothecated income from Fixed Penalty Notices resulting from ANPR activity to fund further ANPR development"
Hypothecated taxes ? No ! As John Lettice points out, this looks to be as controversial as Speed Cameras or Privatised Car Clamping, where there is plenty of evidence of abuses caused by financial income targets.
- "Using ANPR data within force intelligence and investigative strategies"
The PITO webpage also includes the chilling phrase:
"In addition, PITO’s Central Customer is identifying future ANPR requirements, such as the development of a national database to store all ANPR ‘reads’ and analytical tools to mine this."
This implies collecting and collating ANPR time and location data on millions of innocent vehicles, which are not on any "wanted list".
All the same questions we asked (and failed to get answers about) in our London Congestion Charge Concerns such as Data Retention and other Data Privacy policies comes to mind.
We have extreme privacy concerns about these hidden "intelligence" uses for a national mass surveillance system.
This needs to be invesigated by the Information Commissioner needs to investigate probable breaches of the Data Protection Act, as does the Surveillance Commissioner, for disproportionate use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, before the specifications for the system are finalised.