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Devon and Cornwall cops appeal tribunal order

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Devon and Cornwall Constabulary is contesting a judgment ordering it to release the location of its fixed automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras, following a successful Freedom of Information appeal by Guardian Government Computing.

The force was told last month to release the locations of its ANPR cameras, in the latest stage of an FoI application initially made in July 2009. Devon and Cornwall's decision to withhold the information was backed by the Information Commissioner's Office, in a finely-balanced judgment published after an investigation lasting a year.

However, an appeal by Government Computing to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) succeeded. The tribunal, judged by Alison McKenna, ordered that the ICO decision be put aside (PDF) and that Devon and Cornwall Constabulary release the locations within 35 days.

The judgment said that the information should be released on public interest grounds, and that the ICO had not given enough weight to this in its decision. It said that the ICO "did not fully consider" the impact on data protection and rights of access to information captured by ANPR cameras, or "the wider public interest arising in not only knowing where the cameras are located but also, in the light of that information, being able to consider how they are used and whether the use to which they are put by local police forces justifies the undoubted invasion of privacy that they represent".

Devon and Cornwall Constabulary yesterday successfully applied to appeal the decision (PDF). An officer told the Western Morning News that ANPR was "a fantastic weapon in our fight against crime," particularly in tackling drug dealing.

"If we are forced to reveal their locations, then other forces will have to follow, and that raises serious issues particularly around counter terrorism," the officer added.

The force has previously disclosed that it runs 69 ANPR cameras, and a parliamentary written answer in January revealed that 45 of them were connected to the National ANPR Database at that time. In separate Freedom of Information disclosures to the Western Morning News, the force has said that it read 78.9m numberplates in 2010, producing 255,000 'hits' worthy of further investigation, representing 0.3% of the total.

The number of hits has fallen sharply from 1.24m in 2008, something explained by the trust as down to the removal of a DVLA 'no tax and no keeper', the removal of another list from the Police National Computer and the refining of the Midas industry database of vehicles without insurance.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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