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ICO lets police maintain ANPR location secrecy

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The Information Commissioner's Office has decided against forcing police to disclose the locations of vehicle tracking cameras.

The ICO said that Devon and Cornwall Police was correct in refusing to provide the locations of automatic numberplate recognition cameras (ANPR) that it ran in its area following a Freedom of Information request by Kable.

However, in a decision notice published on 23 September 2010, it said the force had failed to comply with procedural requirements of the request in refusing to publish the information. "The public interest was addressed in a generalised fashion, rather than separately in relation to each of the exemptions cited," it says. However, the force will not have to take any further action.

The ICO said the existence and extent of police ANPR cameras, which store the numberplates of vehicles passing for two years, "is of considerable significance to the balance of the public interest," and that the nationwide development of the system does raise questions about the surveillance implications.

But it adds that there is another element of public interest in the police not revealing the location of the cameras in order to prevent crime and apprehend offenders. It says the two public interest arguments are "finely balanced" with "very significant weight both for and against disclosure".

It said that because coverage of the road network is not comprehensive, and that disclosing the locations of cameras in Devon and Cornwall – which its staff have seen – would make it easier for potential offenders to avoid the areas and concentrate on those not covered.

While accepting that many ANPR cameras are clearly visible, and some of their locations may become known over time, the ICO said that it would be difficult for someone trying to avoid the cameras to be certain that they knew of all locations on a given route.

Devon and Cornwall Police has reconsidered its initial refusal to answer one question in the original Freedom of Information request. It told Kable that it holds no information on the locations of CCTV cameras with ANPR functionality that it uses. Some police forces draw ANPR data from cameras run by other organisations such as councils, but the answer suggests that Devon and Cornwall Police does not.

The ICO took a year and a day to come to its conclusion, Kable having disputed the force's refusal to disclose the information on 22 September 2009.

On 5 July, home secretary Theresa May ordered greater regulation of police ANPR systems, and is considering making them more transparent to the public.

This article was originally published at Kable.

Kable's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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