ANPR Cameras - Necessary Monitoring Device or Breach of Privacy?

ANPR Cameras - Necessary Monitoring Device or Breach of Privacy?

Next time you’re driving and get the eerie feeling you are being watched …. you probably are. Sky news recently obtained figures that showed a massive 22 billion records from ANPR cameras were currently stored by the police.

ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras were first introduced in Northern Ireland, then were introduced nationally in 2006. As you drive by one of these cameras the front of your car is pictured, the number plate and the face of the driver. This information can then be stored for 2 years and accessed by the police.

The information gathered by Sky News showed a vast increase in the number of records being collected. In 2006 the database had a total of 35 million records, by 2015 this had inflated to 22 billion records. There are now 9000 roadside cameras and many more fitted to police vehicles.

The police argue the cameras have a number of vital purposes including; finding stolen cars, identifying uninsured drivers, locating persons wanted for arrest and the tracking of criminals in real time. This data can make a big difference, in the past 12 months evidence from ANPR cameras has been used in over 200 court cases to help secure convictions.

Not only has the number of records being stored increased so too has the number of searches the police are performing on the system. In 2012 194,317 searches were performed, this figure had almost doubled in 2014 to 300,758.

Regulations exist to ensure police can only access ANPR data for legitimate reasons and when a new roadside camera is requested a Privacy Impact Assessment takes place to protect the public. Despite these measures the recently reported figures have opened up a debate about the extent of surveillance in the UK.

Although in some cases criminals are brought to justice using data collected by cameras, the vast majority of the data held is about people who have never committed a crime going about their day to day lives. Concerns have been raised by The Information Commissioner's Office, Jonathan Bamford from the ICO told Sky News:-

"There are a lot of people going around on their ordinary day to day business doing nothing wrong, innocent individuals - those are being acquired at the rate of 30 million or so a day and being retained for a number of years.

"You end up with a picture where there's not a lot of our lives taking place which the state can't gain access to in some ways. So it's very, very important that there's a proper public policy debate about the extent of surveillance in the United Kingdom."

What do you think? Are ANPR cameras a necessary monitoring device or a breach of our privacy?

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