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UK Government Wants Speed Camera Friendly License Plates
The top priority for the official UK surveillance privacy watchdog is making it easier for cameras to issue tickets.

Tony Porter
The UK government is pushing for a redesign of license plates so that machines like speed cameras can read them more easily. Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter introduced the recommendation Monday in his annual report on the £2.2 billion (US $3 billion) spy camera industry. While he did call for more transparency regarding the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR, known as ALPR in the US), his ultimate recommendation would expand their capabilities significantly.

"I have stated frequently that law enforcement ANPR in the UK must surely be one of the largest data gatherers of its citizens in the world," Porter wrote. "The nature of its capabilities to intrude on privacy by building patterns of travel and the provision of imagery should not be underestimated -- mining of metadata and overlaying against other databases can be at least the equal of that of communication intercept in terms of its ability to intrude."

The UK deploys 9000 cameras gathering up to 40 million datapoints on motorists each day, with the 20 billion records stored in a centralized database. To date, motorists have been left entirely out the discussion of when and how such systems are used. Instead, the law only considers the interests of "manufacturers, installers, integrators and end users" of the camera devices.

"As I begin to understand more about the complexities and capabilities of the national ANPR system, I become ever more convinced of the importance for increasing transparency of use to be delivered by operators of the system by providing more information to the public," Porter wrote.

There is currently no system in place to ensure the databases are not filled with misread license plate data, and there are no statistics that would give a broader overview of how big a problem camera misreads can be. Inaccurate reads can lead to false arrest or "loss of revenue."

"ANPR depends on the quality of number plates it captures," Porter noted.

Rather than place the burden on camera manufacturers or police agencies to ensure reliability, Porter wants new standards for license plates that would make it easier for automated machines like speed cameras to read them. Porter also explained that he hired an "industry specialist" to develop a "buyer's toolkit for surveillance cameras" to deal with the security and privacy issues raised by high-profile hijackings of public camera systems.

For example, the US Department of Justice last month charged Mihai Alexandru Isvanca and Eveline Cismaru with hacking into 123 surveillance cameras operated by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC. The Romanian hackers installed ransomware on the devices just a week before the presidential inauguration.

The report did not mention the hacking of speed cameras in Correggio, Italy over Christmas, nor did it mention the massive ransomware attack on Redflex speed cameras in Victoria, Australia that resulted in 280 automated ticketing machines being taken offline.

A copy of the report is available in a 1.4mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Annual Report 2016-2017 (UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner, 1/9/2018)

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