Royston's ANPR surveillo-plan goes to ICO
'Ought to have no place in a democratic society'
Three civil liberties groups have complained to the information commissioner about police plans to install ANPR cameras around Royston in Hertfordshire, claiming they are unlawful.
No CCTV, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch say that they fear the project might foreshadow similar work across the country. "The use of ANPR by the police in the UK has not been as the result of any Parliamentary debate, Act of Parliament or even a Statutory Instrument," they say in their complaint. The government is proposing a code of conduct on the use of ANPR, but the complaint says this would not be legally enforceable.
Among other points, the groups argue that ANPR data is kept for too long, noting that police in Toronto only retain such information for 72 hours. It quotes a document from Hertfordshire police saying that images of vehicles are kept for 90 days with other data, including the numberplates, retained for two years. This increases to five years if the vehicle is on a watch list.
"The use of ANPR as a mass surveillance tool constitutes a major assault on our common law foundations and the rule of law," said Charles Farrier of No CCTV. "It is a system of automated checkpoints that ought to have no place in a democratic society."
Large cities including central London, Birmingham and Manchester already have ANPR 'rings of steel' which record the numberplates and images of all vehicles entering and leaving a zone. There were 4,225 such cameras throughout England and Wales connected to the National ANPR Database in early January, according to figures published through Parliament.
Hertfordshire police defended the plans. ANPR co-ordinator Inspector Andy Piper said: "As I'm sure the majority of Royston residents are already aware, the cameras - which aren't due to be installed until the end of June - are entirely lawful, have been funded by local businesses and the town council and are welcomed locally.
Adding that the force adheres to national guidelines, Piper said: "We use ANPR to target criminals and unsafe drivers, not law-abiding motorists, and have caught thousands of burglars, robbers, uninsured drivers, drug dealers and other serious criminals. We repeat again the offer to these national groups, who use Royston as an example for their national campaigns, the opportunity to come and find out more about how we use ANPR in Hertfordshire and discuss their concerns."
Published minutes from a meeting of North Herts council minuted Insp Piper as describing Royston as a "location of importance on the borders of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, with people from those counties and from Bedfordshire also travelling through the area". He also said that each camera cost £7,000, with the columns for each site costing from £7,500, and that they have a success rate of 95% at minimum.
Nigel Brookes, editor of the Royston Weekly News, said that reaction in the town had been mixed. "Some feel it offers some protection, but there are quite a few who feel the other way, that it's an invasion of privacy," he said. "We've had quite a few letters saying that if they are just for catching criminals, why is the information kept on police records?"
A website set up by a local group in Royston, which purported to disclose the locations of the camera sites, is currently offline. A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire police said that although the cameras are not covert and are visible at the roadside, the force would not encourage the publication of the locations.
However, she denied reports that its closure was due to pressure from police. "We did not ask for the website to be taken down - nor could we," she said. "Quite the opposite, we invited them to share their concerns with us and find out how ANPR is used in Herts. They haven't taken us up on this offer."
The Information Tribunal recently ordered Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to disclose the locations of its fixed ANPR cameras, following a refused Freedom of Information request from Guardian Government Computing. The force has said it will appeal.
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
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I suspect that most people can accept the use of ANPR for the purposes of identifying:
1. Untaxed vehicles
2. Uninsured vehicles
3. Vehicles without an MOT
4. Stolen vehicles
provided that no other record is kept.
My issues with the system are that:
1. it goes beyond that and provides the authorities (and I suspect not just the Police) with the ability to trace a journey (without judicial oversight) days/weeks/months later.
2. Has been implemented with no discussion, debate or agreement by the public.
3. Appears to have no judicial oversight.
For ANPR to be acceptable to me the following basic requirement must be in place as primary legislation:
"If the vehicle does not fall into one of the above 4 categories there _NO_ record kept, not even that a database lookup was made for that registration."
If this can not be done then the ANPR system should be switched off until it can fulfill that requirement.
The _ONLY_ extension I would consider is recording in relation to an existing investigation and judicial oversight _MUST_ exist for that, i.e. a court warrant permitting such record keeping is in force before the recording starts.
The manner in which ANPR has happened reinforces my view that currently the UK Police service (as a body) is:
This in not my opinion of individual policemen/women, who are, in my experience to a man/woman, courteous, helpful and fair. The problem sits at the top of the tree and needs to listen, consider and respond a lot more to the views of the public before trust in the Police service is totally destroyed.
I think the problem is less with the cameras...
but with the time the data is held for.
I don't have an objection with a registration plate associated with a current offense being flagged, and anything that gets the unregistered uninsured and unMOTed vehicles off the road is fine by me, but holding data for months or years just in case?
Same objection as against collecting and keeping DNA data - it's an assumption that sooner or later we'll all be guilty of something, so it's needed 'just in case'.
If the collected DNA is not related to an open crime, destroy it immediately. If the registration plate is legal and there is no open crime related, destroy that. A couple of days seems reasonable; longer isn't. There's no reason why this should reduce the number of people caught driving without the necessary legal bits - that's surely most likely an immediate arrest from a police vehicle?
Royston - Crime Capital of the whole of britian
Piper said: "We use ANPR to target criminals and unsafe drivers, not law-abiding motorists, and have caught thousands of burglars, robbers, uninsured drivers, drug dealers and other serious criminals."
I hadn't realised that Royston (pop: ~17000) was such a hot bed of crimal activity. In fact given this new information, maybe we should just build a big wall around the whole place to protect the rest of us.
Fail: for using National Statistics to justify ANPR in a small, statistically safer than average town (especially regarding motoring offences).