back to article UK.gov told: Draw up code of practice for cops bulk-slurping car plates

UK government will be forced to debate a code of practice for cops' use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems after Labour MPs tabled an amendment to the Data Protection Bill. Widespread use of ANPR means cameras across the country submit between 25 million and 35 million read records to the national ANPR data …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    So that makes it OK then.

    Never mind whether it should be done at all, they'll have a 'code of practice' to cover their arses

  2. Daedalus Silver badge

    No go quango

    Sorry, but the DVLA, curse its bureaucratic heart, is not by any definition a quango. It's an executive office of the Dept. for Transport.

  3. Len Silver badge

    No problem with ANPR, within limits

    I have no issue with ANPR, provided it is used within specific limits.

    For instance, if someone (police? DVLA?) kept a record of license plates that are potentially suspect (recently lapsed insurance, taken off the road, owned by someone wanted by the police, reported stolen etc.) and ANPR fitted police cars or stationary cameras would check every plate they see against that database I would have zero problems with it. It would make roads, and society in general, a safer place.

    If ANPR cameras slurp every plate they see, record it against time and place, and store that data in perpetuity I think the damage to privacy is greater than the crime busting benefits of it.

    It shouldn't be too difficult to draft policy that would allow one but not the other. Though somehow I don't see our current nominal Government do their best to do so. Particularly as it is not related to Brexit and Westminster doesn't have the bandwidth to engage on things that are not Brexit related.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No problem with ANPR, within limits

      and Westminster doesn't have the bandwidth to engage on things that are not Brexit related

      It doesn't have the intellectual bandwidth to properly engage on Brexit related matters, sadly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No problem with ANPR, within limits

      I have no issue with ANPR, provided it is used within specific limits.

      What about universal policing of the 70 mph limit on motorways? These are of course our safest roads (and for comparable traffic flows, the safest in the world). They are also the most heavily camera monitored, yet also the roads where drivers most commonly treat the limit as "advisory".

      Despite this, Highways England has been tasked by the Department Against Transport to reduce casualties on these roads by 40% in the next few years. Realistically they've got few levers to pull, and one of those few will be slowing traffic down (and hoping that works in the motorway context). Any sense of proportionality will be lost, but your good old friend ANPR will be watching you, keeping you safe, protecting the children, etc

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ANPR can be abused, by Police.

        The HADECS 3 (Highways Agency Digital Enforcement Camera System) is already operating 24/7 on the M4 at Bristol J15, even when the "Red Ring" Smart motorway signage is switched off (i.e. off-peak/at night). At these times the camera operate at 70+10%+2, so anything above 79mph will get you a ticket. Though most data so far seem to indicate the minimum NIP is issued for is 81mph.

        The HADEC3 Camera Westbound at J15 is obscured by trees and the higher number of offences seem to reflect the camera isn't as visible as the eastbound camera. What I find odd is that they are only catching around 70 cars a day, which I just don't believe, given the signs are off, and the cameras are always active 24/7.

        I also believe the Police are deliberately "tagging" certain vehicles of people that are outspoken against speed cameras, so that any indiscretion over the speed limit, they will always receive a ticket.

        I think if a vehicle has had an ANPR marker placed against it, you should be able to find out and ask for what reason, at the moment, that's not possible.

        The problem is, people/cars can be "singled out" using the ANPR system, so the likelihood of being caught becomes skewed against you. It might feel like bad luck, but it's actually technology working against you, deliberately, as a result of a "zero tolerance" marker.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ANPR can be abused, by Police.

          What I find odd is that they are only catching around 70 cars a day, which I just don't believe, given the signs are off, and the cameras are always active 24/7.

          First of all, thanks for the info!

          Don't forget most car speedos over read by around ten percent. So if the ticket speed is 81 true, those drivers would be seeing 89 on their dashboard. Government data on speed compliance says that in free flow conditions "only" 1% of cars are doing 90 or more on 70 limit roads, my perusal of traffic flows suggests that there's around 25,000 cars a day passing J15, equals 250 doing 90 or above, but that assumes free flow all day. Word gets round, the eagle eyed see the cameras, the nasty and complicated traffic flows around Bristol restrict flows (pretty often at peak times, and hence disproportionate volume wise), and the judicious would inherently ease off through the busy Bristol area. The cameras will also miss a few through inaccurate number recognition, and screening by other vehicles.

          So I'd say that 70 a day is probably indicative of very high levels of enforcement, with an intention of 100% . I'd be surprised if the cameras allow for singling out. If that were ever proven, the injustice of it would cause a complete collapse in both public confidence and probably in the legal validity of the prosecutions. I know that there's been a lot of cases where you might suggest the police don't care about that, the reality is that most are sticklers for procedure*.

          * Certainly when I was being interviewed by two this week they were**.

          ** For a job, right***. Not THAT kind of police interview.

          *** A civilian job, I wouldn't make it to be a copper***

          **** Shall we stop this asterisk shit now?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Caution with assuming "most car speedos over read by around ten percent"

            Using a satnav as reference (*assumed* to be accurate) my in-car speedo indeed over-reads by around 10% for speeds from 30-70mph ... but curiously the speedo is very non-linear between 75 and 80, and 80 would appear to really be 80. /!\ This is for a VW. YMMV.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: ANPR can be abused, by Police.

            > Don't forget most car speedos over read by around ten percent.

            Speedometers are less accurate at lower speeds - at faster speeds, they're more accurate, apparently.

            Per various regulations, speedometers cannot "under-read" - they must either be correct or over-estimate the vehicle's speed.

          3. tiggity Silver badge

            Re: ANPR can be abused, by Police.

            Speedo overread can be quite significant.

            A sat Nav that shows your speed can be very handy, drive plenty of miles and you will see the "over-read" of speedo vs Sat Nav - factor in Sat Nav speed not perfect (but better than speedo) and after logging enough miles you get a feeling for what speedo mph actually is Sat Nav 70 mph.

            And yu can interpret speedo accordingly.

            Note the over-read is not necessarily linear, so worth learning Sat Nav / speed difference at other common speeds such as 30, 60 etc.

            Though if you do take the approach of driving an catual 70 (e.g. 70 on your speedo) note you have less margin for error if speed creeps upe.g. when M-Way inclines downhill fractionally and you gather speed.

            When the "temporary" (seem permanent on many M-Way stretched I drive) 60 or 50 signs come on with enforcement cameras you can always tell who is driving to speedo compared to "real" speed e.g. speedo drivers usually do just under 45 when 50 limit.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Police are deliberately "tagging" certain vehicles of people

          ... or who tread on cracks in the pavement or who urinate in public conveniences or ...

        3. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Re: ANPR can be abused, by Police.

          I also believe the Police are deliberately "tagging" certain vehicles of people that are outspoken against speed cameras, so that any indiscretion over the speed limit, they will always receive a ticket.

          Do you have any evidence of this - or is it another belief formulated over a ping on beer on a Saturday evening?

        4. Solviva

          Re: ANPR can be abused, by Police.

          "The HADEC3 Camera Westbound at J15 is obscured by trees and the higher number of offences seem to reflect the camera isn't as visible as the eastbound camera."

          Because there's a certain group of people that believe speed limits only apply when there's a chance of being caught?

          "I also believe the Police are deliberately "tagging" certain vehicles of people that are outspoken against speed cameras, so that any indiscretion over the speed limit, they will always receive a ticket."

          Could it be these "outspoken" people are outspoken since they generally have more frequent "contact" with speed cameras to begin with? I'm generally happy with speed cameras and never had a ticket since I observe the applied speed limit as best I can. My only wish would be a speed repeater sign somewhere not too far before the camera.

          "I think if a vehicle has had an ANPR marker placed against it, you should be able to find out and ask for what reason, at the moment, that's not possible."

          When you get pulled over you can ask the plod nicely why she's stopped you, or she may even just come straight out, "we've stopped you as you have xxx marker on your vehicle".

      2. Dacarlo

        Re: No problem with ANPR, within limits

        Would be less of a problem if the limits were brought into line with the European speed limits in say, France.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_in_France

        130Kph in the dry? Yes please.

        1. JassMan Silver badge

          Re: No problem with ANPR, within limits @dacarlo

          Be careful what you wish for. The motorways may currently be 130kph in the dry but after the end of next month, roads which are rated 60mph in UK will be limited to 80kph (50mph) in France. This in spite of evidence from Denmark that increasing their previous 80kph to 90kph reduced road deaths by 13%.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: No problem with ANPR, within limits

      "Particularly as it is not related to Brexit"

      The Data Protection Bill is related to Brexit if HMG want an adequacy rating for GDPR.

  4. Tubz
    Big Brother

    3 years to get adiscussion going and then another decade or two while UKGov and the Police use every dirty trick they know to stall it. Wonder how compliantthey are for GDPR or will they insert a get out of jail free clause ?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      insert a get out of jail free clause

      They will definitely try the Stasi one. AKA "National Security".

  5. Woodnag

    The numbers

    "Widespread use of ANPR means cameras across the country submit between 25 million and 35 million read records to the national ANPR data centre each day. There are more than 22 billion records in the database."

    That's about two years worth. The cameras have been building up for a long, long time. M25 upgrade 20-odd years ago for a start, which used plate reading to calculate speeds over long distances.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The numbers

      That's about two years worth

      How do you reckon that? The words "more than" have no upper bound.

    2. ravenviz
      Angel

      Re: The numbers

      Well if they're using it to trap people speeding then no-one's ever at risk on the M25!

  6. unwarranted triumphalism

    Funny how *certain people* seem to be immune from this data collection isn't it?

    1. ravenviz

      In a group of friends and family we held a straw poll as to who had ever been stopped by the police for anything all all, the only one who had not was my mate's dad, an ex-traffic cop!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        I've been stopped twice. Once because of a cock up with the DVLA records about 14 months after I bought the car - the forms crossed in the post and no owner was recorded. Once by the "random" security cordon around Westminster at 11pm, and nothing at all to do with racial profiling of the occupants (yeah, right).

      2. tiggity Silver badge

        I got stopped once accused of speeding.

        I asked them for proof - they had none - just that I rapidly outdistanced their van when leaving roundabout.

        I had to patiently explain why I was not speeding - just accelerating to the speed limit (this was going from stationary on roundabout up to speed on dual carriageway) - but as I was in a car with good acceleration that reaching speed limit in well under 10 seconds was v. easy without breaking speed limit, and that 0-60 time of my car was probably about 1/3 of their transit van and so of course I seemed to leave them in the dust. I'm hoping they were normal plod (not traffic cop specialists) as that was schoolboy error.

        Other option was they spotted a fast car and they wanted to check out who ("colour" check perchance?) the driver was (as I had hoodie on at the time so they would have had no ID clue from behind)

  7. Dave_uk

    and what about GDPR? Or will that not apply to the flatfoot retained data?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Alas not, GDPR allows a get out clause for govermints and lawn enforcement.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Alas not, GDPR allows a get out clause for govermints and lawn enforcement."

        This raises the question of what is sufficient for policing. One option would be a private prosecution against a chief constable under section 191 of the forthcoming DPA. That's the section which provides for personal liability of "a director, manager, secretary ... or a person who was purporting to act in such a capacity" arguing that the practices of ANPR use exceed what's appropriate.

      2. Cynical Pie
        Coat

        Except it doesnt really

        as there is specific provision in the DP Bill to bring law enforcement activities 'into the fold'.

        As an aside just what we need, more clauses to a bill that already runs to 260+ pages.

        Mines the one with the highlighter and post it tabs in the pocket

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here in the US

    police squad cars have license plate scanners that feed the data back to laptops next to the officer in real time to include any past arrest records of the drivers in front of them.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Here in the US

      Which can make sense. It is the reuse of all of that information that could be concerning.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget the private sector

    The original article includes: "But there are also concerns about the tech's increasing presence in the private sector for car parks and traffic monitoring – which wouldn't be brought under a code."

    One of the earliest things that Plod said when starting this surveillance plan was that he wanted all the ANPR from filling stations which they were using to control "drive away" fuel theft. Then the Highways Agency announced that "of course" they would be making the entirety of their speed/congestion monitoring camera network available, though I believe that they more recently rolled back a bit on that. Others on these forums have indicated that their (private company) ANPR output is required daily, and in very specific format. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that any vehicle facing camera will be reporting ANPR details to Plod, though not necessarily in real time.

    It is therefore essential that any "Code of Practice" includes either all cameras, or at the very least includes all ANPR information supplied to or abstracted by Plod.

  10. Martin-73 Silver badge

    As a "Victim" of private sector ANPR use

    I offer a simple solution. A private car park is just that, private land. As soon as you enter private land, remove your license plates, or replace with fakes. MOST car parks put the cameras out of view of the entrance (to prevent them false triggering on passing road users).

    No crime is committed. If they want to fuck with you, fuck with them back.

    For bonus points, use companies house records to dig out the details of the parking company's CEO, and then use streetview's 'oops our numberplate blurring algorithm missed his daimler that time' and fake HIS plates...

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: and fake HIS plates...

      Or her plates. But probably his.

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: and fake HIS plates...

        @TRT... not sure why you got thumbed down, was just reviewing what posts of mine stirred the most hornets (the ones with the equalish plus and minus are the best) and thought just that. Almost verbatim

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a "Victim" of private sector ANPR use

      My friend carries a towel in the car, which he uses to obscure the number plate. If he then decides to browse the shops, have a relaxing lunch where he can check prices online, and then do some shopping with a bit of bargainjng power, he doesn't have to constantly watch the clock.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: My friend carries a towel in the car

        Left by a hitch-hiker?

    4. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: As a "Victim" of private sector ANPR use

      I offer a simple solution. A private car park is just that, private land. As soon as you enter private land, remove your license plates, or replace with fakes.

      Small word of caution on this. Private land that is publicly accessible is treated as a public place for road traffic offences. Being drunk in your local NCP, for example, isn't going to work when stopped.

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: As a "Victim" of private sector ANPR use

        @LucreLout, thanks for the heads up, so 2 sets of laws exist, both of which are to the detriment of the genuine person? (I'd never use my suggested trick to rip off a small landowner who offers their land as a car park for a small profit, but asda aren't losing massive amounts of business if i spend 3 hrs and 1 minute perusing their store LOL)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ANPR as a policing tool

    Ignoring the actual vehicle "crimes" (MOT/Tax), it's been used to help secure a conviction of at least one murderer (search for Natalie Hemmings - was covered in a Channel 4 documentary) - although granted the retention period required for that wasn't anything like 3 years.

    The data points (or even lack of data points showing a break from routine) that can build up a picture to help them solve serious crime - and I'm all for that.

    Busting otherwise law-abiding people for driving a few miles an hour over the limit, however, is a bit too far reaching. I'd rather they used the data to build up an anoymised true correlation of speed vs accidents and use it to implement better speed limits and infrastructure capacity planning.

    The potential for false-positives, issues of long-term retention, and ability to abuse the system must not outweigh the usefulness - getting rid of ANPR altogether would deprive us of a useful tool that can be used for the overall benefit of law-abiding citizens.

  12. Voidstorm
    Joke

    So, In a Blofeldian world...

    The police national computer has records of practically any journey any car makes for at least two years.

    Or "We know where you went last summer".

    I'm wrapping my car in tinfoil, matey :) ... Hang on, there's the door... Oh, it's the special patrol group...

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: So, In a Blofeldian world...

      on your bike!

      No tracking on those journeys

      For short distance travel (or longer depending on fitness / cyling speed you can manage) gives a bit of privacy

      Public transport also good

      1. DaveTheForensicAnalyst

        Re: So, In a Blofeldian world...

        "Public transport is also good"

        Most of the larger bus companies have at least 11 cameras (internal and external) per vehicle, One will cover the entrance, and one will cover the driver cab. With the current use of facial recognition (See South Wales Police, who by the way have a sharing system with a certain capital cities bus company), it will not be long before your mug is well known, as well as your travel patterns, and a live "he's on the 13 to *** NOW".

        I'm not here fighting for the pros or cons on this one, but the above is happening now.

  13. GcdJ

    Who is harmed and how?

    As with all matters related to personal privacy - there are two ways to look at the problem:-

    1) We don't like and resist anything that has the potential to reduce our privacy. Our default position is we want total protection. All people with vested interest then jump on the privacy argument to further their own objectives.

    2) Analyse who is harmed and how, and make decisions that achieve the greater good.

    It strikes me that the article and police surveillance generally is always debated using category (1) above. As a society we have to think in terms of category (2).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who is harmed and how?

      If matters of personal privacy weren't so frequently abused, stringent checks and controls were drafted before any new system of mass surveillance was implmented, and there were severe repercussions for abusing data, then I'd happily go for option 2.

  14. Aseries

    Personal HighwayPrivacy

    How can it be assumed that there is any such condition as personal privacy on public streets or highways. All the vehicles and drivers are licensed with known IDs respective of passengers who should realize they are also in the public eye. Nearly everything that occurs in a licensed vehicle on a public road is tightly regulated. If you choose to pick your nose, everyone can see it. If you tailgate or weave in and out of traffic you are essentially showing your ass on stage. People seem to believe they drive in a little bubble of invisibility and sharing space on the road is someone else's problem. If the authorities find it necessary to scan millions of license plates to construct some kind of database for who knows what...well welcome to the 21st Century where someone is always watching just as in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhoods End or Facebook. The police are watching us and we are watching them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Personal HighwayPrivacy

      I think the objection was that we are not watching them.

  15. EnviableOne Bronze badge

    Simples

    No non-government entity gets the database,

    the DVLA Hold a registration of every car in the uk.

    They control Road Find Licence (Road Tax), so add a flag for this

    Association of British Motor Insurers provide a list of insured drivers, this set an insured flag

    the National Police Computer provides details of Stolen reports and Traffic violations, these set flags

    DVLA Has an API

    each company/organisation gets its own Key

    most Keys only give access to registered owner details.

    To get more than that you need Secretary of State approval

    If they violate the Terms their key gets suspended

    NPC gets RO and Flags.

    the NPC system is designed to drop the list of requestes once a clear response is recived

    if any of the flags are not present, or the record is not present it generates an alert

    then the location time and date data are stored and routed to the relevant local team.

    these Registrations are re-checked periodically, and once a clear response is recived, all records expunged from NPC.

  16. JaitcH
    Meh

    Drivers Should Fight Plods Bulk-Slurping Of Car Plates

    Lucky car / truck (lorry) drivers in SaiGon/Ho Chi Minh City are now surveilled by tens of thousands of new CCTV cameras designed to implement road usage changes. Motorcycles are free. Some of the larger intersections have to 10 cameras.

    One unusual feature is that many of the cameras are accessible, in real time, on Apps so drivers can check on road conditions - open, jammed, road work or flooding, etc,

    All my company's vehicles are fitted with elongated Infra-Red LED spotlights, back and front, which effectively 'blind' cameras and render them useless. The Apps are great for 'fine tuning' the IR radiators

    People are tired of the covert attempts to track people / activities, stripping away privacy, be it by cameras, cell handsets or vehicle CAN "Call Home" systems. Obviously trails from credit card, ATM, passport use, etc. are understood / accepted by users to leave mouse trails although some trails can be minimised / eliminated.

  17. Tumble

    Is ANPR database secure?

    With ‘over 30 million read only requests a day’ does anyone know how the Government maintains the confidentiality of the personal data on ANPR?

    I read about 10 years ago that the data was made open to all European Police forces through PRUM agreement.

    It wouldn’t be surprising if someone tried to scrape all the data and put it on the dark web.

    Names and addresses, plus the various flags.

  18. steviebuk Silver badge

    Just start doing what I've begun...

    ....and once out of a private car park, under GDPR request your number plate footage be removed from their system. If you've paid and not been fined there is no reason for them to keep sad footage. I'm currently arguing with one now who's claiming they can keep the plate for 3 months for "Crime prevention" despite their sign to the car park saying "You're stuff gets stolen, we don't care". Not to mention their site regarding cookies is also in breach of GDPR.

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