back to article Home Office promises spycam review

Home Secretary Theresa May is calling for the police network of automatic number plate recognition cameras to be put under some form of regulation. ANPR is used by all local police forces as well as Customs and Excise, SOCA and the MoD. Some 4,045 fixed and mobile cameras contribute 10 million reports of motorist movements …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Much like CCTVs, only more intrusive.

    Frankly, amazing how tools that didn't exist previously suddenly become ``essential''. As if new technology means instant loss of good old-fashioned policing skills.

    Personally I think that Yet Another Database is simply Yet Another Mindless Assault On Privacy. Keep a list of number plates you want to track, highlight them as the cameras detect them, and make use of that information right away. Do not, however, keep everyone's movements in your database just because you can. That sort of behaviour means you're irresponsible and cannot be trusted with databases or even the cameras that feed them.

    Guess what happens? Actually, nobody here needed to guess. Carry on government.

  2. Velv Silver badge

    Scotland's ANPR system is regulated and run separately

    RUN, but maybe not regulated.....

    Edinburgh Council is using ANPR to calculate traffic flows across the city and using the information to update the dot matrix signs giving drivers advice on which routes are busy and which routes are quieter.

    Not that is actually makes much difference - most of the roads are closed anyway for the stalled construction of the tram system.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Is the system in Edinburgh like the one in Oxford where they create a one-way hash of the numberplate inside the camera, timestamp it and use this to calculate their traffic info? (IIRC they erase the data after a few days) I personally don't have a problem with this type of system, I do have a problem with a systems where the data is stored in plain and handed out to anyone who asks.

  3. Neiljohnuk
    Thumb Up


    And what about the 'parking scam' ANPR systems to log you into and out of car parks, 30 seconds too long, or not recognised when leaving, that'll be £100 'fine' !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "not recognised when leaving"?

      I really can't see that being a problem. If they didn't detect you leaving then they have no evidence that you overstayed. Unless they want to claim that your car is still there, weeks/months later, which is surely fairly easy to disprove?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Don't be naive, Shirley

        You check in. You check out, only the system ``forgets'' you did. You check in again some time later. Now you pay double. You check out again, and, what a coincidence, the system ``forgets'' you did. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ten weeks later you get pulled off the road for parking fifty vehicles on the same number plate (you crook!) and massive overstay fines for all but one of them. Heck, you're even driving a vehicle that's supposedly still parked. Obviously you're trafficking in stolen cars on a single plate! Need I go on?

        The problem here is that these systems are designed without consideration for either the possibility of failure or concern for ``the consumer'' to be milked. Indeed, all failures are automatically YOUR fault, and if you try to fight it you run headlong into a bureaucratic wall of denial and disinformation. All you can hope for is that your case explodes spectacularly enough that some hack journo type takes pity on you and goes national, so that the embarrasmen might buy you your redress. That only costs you your privacy. Small price to pay for some system designer's stupidity, no?

        1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

          Won't survive court

          I'm sorry, but I'm not buying that.

          Especially the volume of failures will make it improbable that they would win in any court case. You only have to prove one single instance of an error (like arriving at court in your car despite it being "parked") for them to lose. As a matter of fact, all you need to do is ask for test results and failure analysis. If they don't have it they cannot prove the system works 100%, if they have it there will be a clear track record and you'll end up with a settlement before it ever comes to court (because they sure as hell cannot afford to have any such cases to go against them for fear of starting a veritable avalanche).

          In addition, I've never been in a garage so equipped, but isn't there an automatic exit barrier?

          If not, I want to know where that place is as there is lots of scope to make a complete mess of that system (think plate swapping and cooking up proof you were elsewhere). I'd have these people tear out their hair in a good week or so, all it takes is some planning and strategy.

          I've once had an argument with a parking garage in the City of London. They were not happy I parked my car across their two exits before I went to discuss some very strange charges, but it did speed up the discussion and decision process tremendously. It does help I have a foreign license plate, a very thick skin, an even thicker faked accent and a brutally dangerous black sense of humour :-)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            That only takes care of *you*

            The big wins are in the numbers. Much like how annoying frog animation outlet jamba makes shedloads of money for being as hateful as they can. This is how it works: Get punter to sms consent (for one), stick in the small print it's really a monthly subscription (even if nothing else is ever delivered, though what better than to have pay the punter for delivery of spam?), and make sure the charge is small enough it's not worth the hassle to have punter take action, provided they notice at all (who reads their monthly statements entirely?). Made them some seven figures, last I heard.

            If you don't think this is convincing, consider the oyster card, or rather the dutch version: It comes in a ``subscribed'' model (automatic top up means they basically get free access to dip into your bank account), and an ``anonymous'' model.

            If you want to remain anonymous, never ever use a bank card to ``charge'' the card. That means a sack of coins because no charge automatons allow you to use paper. If anything goes wrong, even some glitch checking out, they charge you the maximum fare. Want it back? Fill in this form, with... your name, address, bank account. They never give back cash, they insist on depositing it into your bank account. Do I get to use an anonymous bank account? Heck no, those don't exist. How anonymous is this card, really?

            It's that sort of designed-in systemic failure that I find highly offensive exactly because it seems cynically built to track you as much as possible. Oh yes, every time you swipe the card across a reader it leaves a trace that must be retained for seven years. Why? Because they were too lazy to design around the taxman's rule that every transaction must be retained for seven years. Or maybe it was on purpose.

            The thing is, yes you can fight it, but there's a limit on how many things you can feasibly contest, so they simply design their systems such that nobody is going to bother, instead creating meek complyance with the abusive setup even though it's clear as day the system could've been made to work in a customer friendly way. That, however, doesn't fit with the ``the customer is always a cheating criminal'' mindset so ubiquitous with system designers.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "not recognised when leaving"?

        They may still have a record of you leaving, just not at the correct time. I recently had to sort out a parking ticket for over staying in a motorway service station in Kent. The problem stemmed from the slip road also being a junction that leads to a housing estate. The vehicle was logged entering the slip road, but not turning out of the service station in to the housing estate. Four hours later when the driver left the housing estate via the service station and back on to the motorway it looked like the driver had been parked in the service station for four hours, not just passing through as did actually happen.

  4. Andy Livingstone


    "In total the the National ANPR data centre holds 7.6 billion records."

    Cannot be National if Scotland is separate.

  5. Graham Marsden

    the kind of things you might sort out in the very early stages of a project

    Remember this was a New Labour project we're talking about...!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There is a very simple solution to this. I have no problem with ANPR being used to catch people driving without MOT or insurance. Nor do I have an objection in particular to it being linked to speed cameras or cameras on bus lanes, level crossings or traffic lights. The problem I have is in the data being retained where there is no need for it and indeed the cross referencing of data.

    So the simple solution? Require that, unless an offence is being committed there and then, the data is deleted. Also that any data collected is only used for the purpose for which it is being collected and must not be used for cross referencing with ANPR data collected elsewhere.

    If plod or anybody else want to use ANPR data for anything else then they would need to present a case to a judge with clear boundaries placed on the uses to which the data be put, the area covered down to individual cameras and time limits for both the capture and retention of data. In particular no single application should be allowed to cover more than 7 days of data capture.

    As for retaining data on average speed cameras, there is no need to retain the data for any longer than it would take to commit a speeding offence. If it takes 60 seconds to get from one camera to another on the speed limit then there is no need to keep the data from the first camera for more than sixty seconds. Once you reach that point there is no chance of a speeding offence being committed so the data can be dropped.

    I don't think there's anything in there that the police could reasonably object to is there?

  7. LuMan


    "Making ANPR cameras transparent to the public, except when they're being used for covert surveillance"

    Surely you'd want transparent cameras for covert operations?? Otherwise they'll be seen too easily.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      @ AC ("Simples")

      Sounds like good decent advice, but remember the ongoing saga of the DNA database. Just because somebody is innocent doesn't mean their information shouldn't be kept, just in case... right?

      I'm glad I live in France. I'm no longer a part of this madness, and my French isn't good enough to follow whatever crazy ideas the French govt might be having, and living out in the back of nowhere, I'm pretty far away from anything. Hell, we still have gendarmes who drive around keeping an eye on things. Okay, she might be a drop-dead-cute brunette armed with only a taser, but it's better than a video camera that nobody watches.

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge


      That may prove a challenge in the sun. Oh wait, it's England. OK, ignore me :-)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The primary purpose of ANPR was to help catch uninsured or MOT-less drivers

    But clearly they don't actually do that given I recently drove my car without an MOT daily along a major motorway for the best part of two months with no problems whatsoever.

    I wonder what they *are* used for? Bound to be "counter-terrorism" related, right?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      prompt action?

      you're assuming that the govt. acts in a prompt and efficient manner there aren't you?

      there's a good chance that sometime in the next year or two they'll catch up with it and you'll get shafted for 30 odd instances of driving illegally

      1. kwikbreaks

        they have to..

        at least I think (and hope they do) Certainly if you get flashed by a speed camera they have to issue a ticket within two weeks (researched after getting flashed but no ticket arrived).

        I moved house and somehow the usual reminder from the garage that my service and MOT were due went astray and I drove a couple of months without realising I had no MOT - my home-work trip is 35miles along several major roads including motorways. No ticket arrived.

  9. 7mark7

    Here we go again.

    "•Enabling the bulk transfer of data between agencies and between the private sector and the police for agreed purposes"

    Private sector?

  10. Smooth Newt

    Why do the DLVA need SORN declarations?

    When there is such a big ANPR network? I am sure all that money that the DVLA receives from fining people has nothing to do with it.

  11. Circadian

    Cash-strapped government uses

    Note the regulation between government and private agencies.

    I wonder how much advertisers would be willing to pay to find out who was parking near what stores? Or demographics for drivers passing advertising spots?

    Wonder how data-cleanliness is ensured? I wonder how many people are driving around with false numberplates after introduction of "congestion charge" areas?

    Also wonder how long before we start hearing about people having to try to prove their innocence due to "computer says you were in the area"?

    I'm getting too old for this shit.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the fuss?

    Why are people against the retention of such data and demanding that it's only used there and then?

    Retained data could help track the movements of vehicles used in any number of crimes but you would have the police destroy the data for fear of infringing your privacy?

    Child abducted, plate turns up on CCTV (assuming you also haven't demanded that CCTV data is destroyed). ANPR records could be used to tract the routes it took but no, it's not available because someone has decided that to keep it infringes their privacy... Child is found dead three days later but you are happy because your plate isn't on record...

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Down

      @Why the fuss?

      You could have saved yourself a lot of typing if you'd just posted:

      WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!111!!oneoneone!!111

    2. Circadian

      @Anonymous Coward

      I believe the appropriate response is ODFO.

      Are you truly that stupid as to think that a planned crime would not also pack a spare set of number-plates? And if you are the poor bastard whose number they copied your life could be well and truly fucked unless you could prove conclusively that you were not there?

      Yes, crimes against children are truly horrific, but if you are one of the cretinous brigade that believes that anything is justified if it saves one child, then it can (taken to extreme silliness) lead to the justification that everyone have all their limbs amputated as that way they can no longer injure children.

      Isn't it about time we told these busybody wastes of space to just shut the fuck up and give us back our freedom? No, the life of a child is not worth the loss of all freedom. No, the threat of terrorism is not worth the humiliations performed in airports and the unfettered powers given to the police. Just plain NO!

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        @ Circadian

        I agree with everything substantial that you say - the OP is indeed an idiot - but I just want to say that crimes against children are no more horrific than crimes against anyone else. It is the idea that somehow children are morally more special that leads to the "Won't somebody think of the children" mindset. Don't get drawn in to that way of thinking.

      2. KayKay

        if you are the poor bastard whose number they copied....

        EASY! you produce the fine from the parking garage that says you were parked in there for the whole 56 hours of the kidnap/murder.

    3. Smooth Newt

      @why the fuss?

      It is a strange argument that it could save one life in a particular and unusual set of hypothetical circumstances.

      On the other hand the millions squandered on this could be spent on healthcare and definitely save many lives.

      How about child found dead because you preferred the money to be wasted on an ANPR system...

  13. Dave 120

    @ simples.

    I'm with you for the first 2 paragraphs.

    But as for going to a judge? At present if the police want to use it for any other purpose then they need a RIPA surveillance authorisation from a senior officer (like Deputy comissioner or chief superintendant). You may find this unsatisfactory in that they're regulating themselves but consider that the officer scrutinies these applications as a full time job and is subject to review from the surveillance comissioner and so you end up with a HIGHER quality and consistency of control than you'd get from a judge who doesn't understand the technology or only does applications once in a blue moon and is open to scutiny by an expensive and slow judicial review process well after the fact when its too late anyway.

    As for retention of data if you think about it you'd have to retain it (if it disclosed an offence) until all actual or potential legal proceedings had concluded or you'd end up with someone appealing a speeding ticket/no insurance a year later and the evidence used to fine them no longer existing.

  14. peter 45
    Jobs Horns

    Recycling centre as well...why?

    ANPR is used by all local police forces as well as Customs and Excise, SOCA and the MoD

    .....and by the Crawley Council Recycling Centre.

    Anyone hazard a guess why, and what they do with the data? I feel a freedom of information request coming on, coupled with a request under the data protection act.

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Grossly disproportinate for stated task

    Sounds like a DPA violation.

    I think only the people who had been involved would have a reasonable case.

  16. David 45


    Just who authorised the use of these things in the first place? I don't recall any pre-amble, consultation or publicity. The things just suddenly appeared in my town on every approach road, almost overnight, and initially nobody seemed to know what they were. What is more, the damn things are multiplying and still springing up in the most unlikely places. Seems that there is no route locally that isn't spied on in one way or another.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    ANPR Abuse

    Believe me, ANPR isn't used only in high profile cases.

    This is being used routinely, and without much control.

    Abused? I didn't 'say' abused...

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  19. BiggleFlysUndone


    "Making ANPR cameras transparent to the public, except when they're being used for covert surveillance" you won't see the normal ones, but you will see the covert ones???

  20. ShaggyDoggy

    re: Why the fuss

    Godwin 2.0 on you

    i.e. mention of terrorism or paedo

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