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Police use of automatic number plate recognition

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Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a fixture on our roads and motorways. The police use it to combat organised crime and counter terrorism – to keep the citizens of the UK safe.

It is an effective tool but the fact is it ‘reads’ between 25 and 35 million pieces of data a day that are stored on the National ANPR Data Centre . This means it has potential to intrude hugely on individuals’ privacy. As police forces are relevant authorities under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (s.33 (5)) they must pay due regard to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.

You may have read my speech to the police’s National ANPR Annual Conference last year. I was quite critical about a perceived lack of transparency around the police use of ANPR as well as questioning the legislative and governance framework for the use of ANPR. Since then I’ve been working closely on this with the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on ANPR, DCC Paul Kennedy.

Being open and transparent

There is now a wealth of information on the NPCC website on what ANPR is, how it’s used and how many cameras there are. I know that some commentators also would like the location of ANPR made public but here I’m in agreement with forces that disclosure of this information could compromise major investigations.

DCC Kennedy has also listened to my criticism and established an ANPR privacy group designed to look at  issues surrounding the use of ANPR and how to resolve these. My office has a seat on this group alongside civil liberty groups, the Information Commissioner’s Office, academics and the Home Office. I have referred the legal framework issue to the Home Office and DCC Kennedy. I understand this is an issue that DCC Kennedy will also raise with the Home Office to explore legislative opportunities.

Complying with the surveillance camera code of practice

I’ve also worked with Paul’s office on developing a self assessment tool designed specifically for police use of ANPR which aligns to the National ANPR Police Standards. When completed it will enable forces to identify how closely they are complying with the 12 guiding principles in the Code or where they may be falling short. Paul will be writing to all forces asking them to use the tool.

So, a lot has happened in the past year. Whilst some will question the amount of data police ANPR camera’s collect a lot has been done to make the use of ANPR much more open and transparent. I’ll continue to work with DCC Kennedy and police forces to ensure this approach continues.

Police use of ANPR will also be a key theme in the law enforcement strand of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Andy Wells. posted on

    I note mention is made of Police use of ANPR, however in London at least 3 Local Authorities have ANPR systems owned by the LA and operated in partnership with the Police; presumably the same rules will apply to the LAs? It would be useful to have mention made of it in guidance to remove ambiguities.


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