7/25/2013UK Information Commissioner Blasts License Plate Readers
UK government agency blasts small, rural town use of automated license plate reader technology.
The American Civil Liberties Union is not alone in its concern over the use of automated license plate readers (ALPR or ANPR in Europe). The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on Wednesday ordered a review of Hertfordshire Constabulary's use of the technology in Royston, the first town in England to adopt the technology. In November, Canada's privacy commissioner arrived at a similar conclusion in November (view report).
The UK commissioner ruled the information collection effort in Royston violated the UK Data Protection Act. All six possible routes into and out of the town are covered by license plate cameras creating what police like to call a "ring of steel." The system keeps a log of the movements of all automobiles, something the commissioner found unnecessary.
"It is difficult to see why a small rural town such as Royston, requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town 24 hours a day," ICO enforcement chief Stephen Eckersley said in a statement. "The use of ANPR cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address. After detailed enquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn't the case in Royston."
The Data Protection Act forbids "excessive" collection of data "in relation to the purpose or purposed for which they are processed." Police officials were unable to provide a reasonable explanation for their actions, and the unnecessary collection increases the risk that the data will be misused or unlawfully accessed by others. The issue was brought to the commissioner's attention through a complaint filed by Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and No CCTV.
"This sends a clear message that the blanket logging of vehicle movements is not going to be within the law and it is now essential that the ICO ensures other police forces are abiding by the law," Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said in a statement. "Yet again we find the public placed under surveillance when the police force was unable to justify why the surveillance was necessary or proportionate. Whoever took the decision to press ahead with this ring of steel and to ignore the law so brazenly should be clearing their desk today."
The commissioner warned police agencies that the license plate cameras cannot be used without a clear purpose and a privacy impact assessment.
A copy of the order is available in an 800k PDF file at the source link below.