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UK: Vehicle plate recognition video system ruled illegal

31 July, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: GB: Automatische Kennzeichenerfassung illegal

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), UK's data protection authority, issued on 24 July 2013, an Enforcement Notice asking the Hertfordshire police to stop using a vehicle plate tracking system that it considered as unlawful.

The ICO notice is a result of a complaint made in June 2013 by No CCTV, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch against the so-called “Ring of Steel” of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras around the small town of Royston which is tracking all cars entering or leaving the town.

The data collected by ANPR cameras is stored both in local force databases and in a centralised database. License plate photos are stored for two years and photographs of cars are stored for 90 days. The notice issued by ICO said that the seven cameras around the town had "effectively made it impossible for anyone to drive their car in and out of Royston without a record being kept of the journey".

According to ICO inquiries, the Hertfordshire Constabulary failed to carry out "any effective impact assessments" before implementing the system and decided that the system breached the Data Protection Act.

"It is difficult to see why a small rural town such as Royston, requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town, 24 hours a day. The use of ANPR cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address. After detailed enquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn’t the case in Royston. We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully justified before they are installed,” stated ICO's head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley.

By this complaint, the three groups raised serious concerns over the entire nationwide ANPR network which has been constructed by the police without any public debate.

Charles Farrier of No CCTV welcomed ICO’s decision: "This is a landmark decision. The ICO has validated our view that blanket vehicle tracking should have no place in a democratic society. The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera network amounts to an automated checkpoint system that is the stuff of totalitarianism. The ICO has ruled strongly within the constraints of the Data Protection Act.”

ICO said that other UK police forces should be taking note of this decision: "We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully justified before they are installed. This includes carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the impact on the privacy of the road-using public."

The Hertfordshire Constabulary stated it would not appeal this decision and accepted the system needed additional privacy checks. It also state that although it would continue to use such camera, it intended to work with the Commissioner to “ensure that its particular deployment of such cameras is - and is seen to be - fully justified."

"We have already undertaken considerable analysis of the justification for the use of these cameras in Royston and we have welcomed the Commissioner's offer of further advice on strengthening our privacy impact assessments," also said the police statement.

Article corrected on 11.09.2013 - correctly attribution of the statement ""We hope that this enforcement..."

Press Release – ICO Rules Royston Vehicle Number Plate Tracking Cameras Unlawful (24.07.2013)

Data protection Act 1998 – Supervisor Powers of the Information Commissioner Enforcing Notice (15.07.2013)

Police number plate camera scheme broke law in Royston (24.07.2013)

ICO slams police for invading motorists' privacy with 'unlawful' ANPR camera use (24.07.2013)



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