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12/30/2015
UK Official Questions License Plate Reader Legality
UK Surveillance Commissioner raises questions about the legality of the vast network of license plate reader cameras.

Tony Porter
The increased use of cameras to track the movement of motorists has outpaced the law. That was the conclusion of UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter in a report to the Home Secretary released last month.

"Arguments advanced by civil liberty groups say the creation of a national database of all citizens' vehicle movements would seem to warrant a specific statutory basis and clear mechanisms for accountability and governance, not least to ensure that privacy, data protection, and human rights concerns are properly addressed," Porter wrote. "There is no statutory authority for the creation of the national ANPR database, its creation was never agreed by parliament, and no report on its operation has even been laid before parliament."

Britain is currently the leader in surveillance, with an estimated six million cameras watching its citizens. In particular, the use of automated license plate readers (ALPR, also known as ANPR in Europe) has ballooned in the past several years. Local cameras feed into the National ANPR Data Centre, which records 30 million license plate reads every day.

Currently, the system allows local officials to search through a database of 22 billion vehicle reads -- a number that could rise to 77 billion with a proposed change to data retention standards. This vast collection of data allows cars to be tracked in real time. Users may also create a full travel history for any given vehicle. The system can easily create profiles by tagging individuals who may have taken a particular route or been near a particular place at a particular time, a power that can be easily abused.

"The strategy was implemented and run by ACPO, a private limited company, which is not accountable to parliament," Porter observed. "These issues fall into sharper focus given the desire within some quarters in the police to extend retention periods from the currently agreed two year period to a maximum of seven years. I have referred these concerns over the legality of ANPR to the Home Office."

In addition to the surveillance use, license plate cameras are increasingly used to generate revenue.

"From the visits I've been on and the people I've spoken to it is my opinion that austerity measures put in place to reduce the deficit is the key challenge facing local authorities," Porter wrote. "According to the Local Government Association in the 2015/2016 financial year alone local authorities will have to find £2.6 billion in savings."

The UK Conservative government responded last year with a partial ban on the ability of local governments to issue parking tickets with cameras.

"This was due to the perceived over zealous use of static and mobile CCTV to issue parking fines," Porter wrote.

Porter intends to create a self-assessment tool for local law enforcement to ensure greater compliance with surveillance regulations. The document is expected by March 2016.

A copy of the report is available in a 5mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Annual Report 2014 to 2015 (UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner, 11/19/2015)

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