Hertfordshire Police Number Plate Database Declared Illegal

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The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) does not appear to be proportionate, says the ICO

The Hertfordshire Constabulary has been ordered to review its illegal automated collection of people’s number plates.

The UK’s privacy watchdog said the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) operation, which recorded licence plate details of all those entering and exiting the town of Royston, had broken two principles of the Data Protection Act.

Complaints had been lodged by the Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and No CCTV, before the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigated the matter.

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Number plate scheme ‘not proportionate’

The ICO said Hertfordshire Constabulary failed to implement effective impact assessments before introducing the system of cameras. The body has been ordered to stop running the system until it can prove the project’s worth “by way of a proper privacy impact assessment, or similar such assessment”.

The system sucks licence plate information into a database, which is correlated with other databases, like the Police National Computer, to help catch offenders going in and out of Royston. But privacy advocates have argued such widespread data capture is not necessary.

“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,” said ICO head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley.

“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.”

Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch, told TechWeekEurope: “The idea that it is acceptable for the police to record the details of every car entering and leaving a small town was always ridiculous.

“Yet again we find the public placed under surveillance when the police force was unable to justify why the surveillance was necessary or proportionate.”

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