The Scotsman newspaper has a report about the possible illegality of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera technology, when used as a mass surveillance tool.
Sat 15 Jul 2006
Number plate cameras may be illegal
Hamish MacDonnel, Scottish Political Editor
POLICE cameras which use automatic number plate recognition could breach human rights legislation, a leading surveillance expert has warned.
Sir Andrew Leggatt, Chief Surveillance Commissioner, urged ministers in Edinburgh and London to bring forward legislation swiftly to ensure the equipment is in line with privacy laws and police are not prevented from using the cameras to provide evidence in court.
In his annual report, before both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster, Sir Andrew urged ministers to amend the law on both sides of the border to make sure the evidence from the cameras is not challenged in court.
UPDATE:The Annual report of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner to the Prime Minister and to Scottish Ministers for 2005-2006 (.pdf 34 pages) is now available online.
The piece of legislation which is the focus of his concerns is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Most of it covers the whole of the UK, although there is a separate law for Scotland dealing with devolved issues as well.
Together, they require police and local authorities to obtain authorisation for any operation involving intrusive surveillance. Authorisation is generally granted in relation to operations against specific suspects.
But Sir Andrew said that if an ANPR camera was set up to record any of the large number of vehicles which may have been entered on police computers as being suspect - and particularly if the system was linked to Highways Agency computer records - it was "unlikely" that the operation could be authorised under the terms of RIPA.
This is exactly what is already happening with the development of the National ANPR Database based in Hendon, North London.
Sir Andrew said that it was the unanimous view of the seven surveillance commissioners - all of whom have held senior judicial office - that existing legislation "is not apt to deal with the fundamental problems to which the deployment of ANPR cameras give rise".
"The commissioners are of the view that legislation is likely to be required to establish a satisfactory framework to allow for the latest technological advances.
We look forward to reading this report, by the outgoing Chief Surveillance Commissioner Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew Leggatt.
The new Chief Surveillance Commissioner, as of 1st July 2006, is Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Rose.