Additional issues for concern include the Data Retention period and policy for these systems.
Whilst the theory is that they merely do a lookup of a customer's vehicle Number Plate against a "blacklist" of convicted or previous "driven off without paying" records, it is hard to believe that there are no log files or engineering test modes in such equipment which can also keep a tab on legitimate customers time, date and location information.
How long is such data retained for, and is is ever passed on to other people, such as market research companies or even to the Police etc ?
Sainsburys’ bogus "Big Brother"
© 2005 Manfred Roxon
Sainsburys is to take down bogus "police" warnings from its petrol stations all over the country – because they’re untrue. Bold yellow warnings tell drivers that Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras "linked to the police" have recorded their car’s number to foil non-payers. The ANPR warning signs imply the police and security services scan every car that drives in, enabling them to track people (not cars) for a variety of reasons. Sainsburys also now admits there may be no cameras at all, only scary warnings. As the company’s Civil Rights Officer, Jillian Hardwick concedes, "No Sainsbury's ANPR systems are linked directly to the police. In some stores we have notices up as a deterrent but do not actually use the scheme."Sainsbury's Store Locator web page (tick the box marked "Petrol") for maps of where these supermarket petrol stations are located.
The civil rights campaign, Liberty says, "The use of false cameras and misleading notices is not acceptable," because people have "the right to know when they are, and are not, under surveillance". In Devon and Cornwall, for example, the police say Sainsburys has never approached the force to discuss a computer link, while the Information Commissioners Office, the watchdog supervising overt surveillance, says ANPR signs "should reflect the accurate picture" – which Sainsburys' warnings do not.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras check number plate images against a privately operated computer blacklist. A buzzer sounds if potential non-payers, known as 'drive-outs' or bilkers appear. Sainsburys wants eighty ANPR stations by the end of the year and eventually plans to have them all on-line.
Now, following enquiries about its Devon stores, Sainsburys says its fake "police" warning signs are "in the process of being changed" at filling stations in across the country. Many have been up for more than a year, and yet today the company "cannot give (you) a timescale" for lifting its bogus police threat. Even so the Information Commissioners Office is "pleased Sainsburys has given an assurance that its signs will reflect the accurate picture in future".
Sainsburys won’t give any figures for stolen petrol, calling them "commercially sensitive". No comment either on whether any losses are insured. A manager at an Exeter store told a customer non-payers are to blame for petrol price rises! Not the Chancellor or blown-up pipelines. The lack of transparency means it’s hard to tell if Sainsburys ANPR cameras are even justified in crime-fighting and business terms. Customers might be being snooped on for no reason.
Honest and accurate warning signs are required under the 1998 Data Protection Act and company directors can be charged for negligence – a point which even the British Petroleum Retailers Association highlights on its website. The regulator, the ICO, says warnings should show "members of the law-abiding public were being treated civilly and respectfully, as was their due." The civil rights organisation Liberty says misleading or deceiving the public clearly falls short of that objective. "Surveillance technology can play a partial role in making areas safer and dealing with criminal acts. However there are also big potential dangers and a fundamental part of protecting against these is allowing people the right to know when they are, and are not, under surveillance. The use of false cameras and misleading notices is not acceptable."
But does it really matter? Anyone can install a fake burglar alarm box without having to prove it’s needed. But a wall box or a bell are a long way from the computerised vigilantism of Automatic Number Plate Recognition – especially when it involves pretending Big Brother is watching as customers fill up their tanks. Sainsburys says its safeguards mean the data won’t be abused, and after so much deception that’s a great relief to know.
© 2005 Manfred Roxon email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Sainsburys PRO – 0207 695 6500 / 0207 695 7295
Devon & Cornwall Constabulary PRO – 01392 452151
Information Commissioners PRO – 0207 282 2960
Liberty Human Rights PRO – 0207 403 3888
So far Sainsburys hasn’t supplied any info about its Exeter (Alphingon) store which therefore may just have signs and no real ANPR cameras."
STORE ANPR INSTALLED (Source: Sainsburys Press Office) Rugby 03 August 2004 Alperton 04 August 2004 Darnley 11 February 2005 Warren Heath 07 September 2004 Pepper Hill 27 September 2004 Becton 02 November 2004 Castle Boulivard 03 November 2004 Reedswood 27 October 2004 Dunstable 12 October 2004 Courthouse Green 01 November 2004 Weedon Road 07 February 2005 Water Lane 08 November 2004 Bramigham Park 22 February 2005 Enfield 10 November 2004 London Colney 24 November 2004 Whitechapel 13 December 2004 Purley Way 01 December 2004 Nine Elms 30 November 2004 Cobham 23 November 2004 East Mayne 08 December 2004 Heaton Park 06 December 2004 Leigh 22 November 2004 Denton 07 December 2004 West Hove 30 November 2004 Harlow 08 March 2005 Marsh Mills 21 March 2005 Hornsey Rise 29 March 2005 Castle Court 24 March 2005 Watchmore 13 September 2004