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Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)


Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) uses digital cameras and software similar to Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to extract the registration data of vehicles. This can be done by pointing the camera at parked cars, but is most commonly done by deploying the camera adjacent to a road, and monitoring passing traffic. Variants have been used in most Australian States since the 1980s for heavy vehicle traffic. The technology is related to, but differs in some ways from, that used for 'speed cameras' and 'red light cameras'.

ANPR has reached epidemic proportions in the U.K., has been implemented in an uncontrolled manner, and relies on seriously error-prone underlying data. It has very serious implications for privacy, and for democratic freedoms more generally. It is crucial that Australian implementations not make the same gross mistakes as the U.K.

Until 2008, Australian Parliaments appear to have given virtually no consideration to ANPR, and law enforcement agencies have been conducting trials without guidance from their legislatures or oversight from anyone at all. (It appears that one Committee of the federal Parliament may have held hearings, but it is unclear which one it was, what information was publicly available, and who was invited. The APF wasn't).

In late 2007 and early 2008, the Queensland Parliamentary Travelsafe Committee has been undertaking an Inquiry into ANPR. This was naturally focussed on the traffic applications, rather than the broader policing and 'national security' justifications that are often advanced for ANPR. The Inquiry was conducted in an open and informative manner, and received 32 Submissions. The APF was invited to submit, and did so on 18 January 2008. The APF was subsequently invited to present verbal evidence, and did so on 14 March 2008.

This document contains the notes prepared for the Hearings. It should be read in conjunction with the APF's formal submission. See also the submission by QCCL. (The Submission by the OFPC contains material of value. The brief Submission by the OVPC swallows the unjustified assertions of the UK police, but also has some material of value in it).

APF POLICY re Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

1. ANPR has the potential to make contributions in several areas:

2. Wild claims have been made about the potential benefits of ANPR in some countries (not, thankfully, in Australia). Among them is the assertion by senior UK police executives that ANPR can "deny criminals use of the road". This does not stand up to any analysis. It is vital that assertions of benefits not be taken at face value, and that they be subjected to consideration, and testing.

3. Whether the potential benefits can be achieved is questionable. Factors include the following:

4. Despite deployment in a significant number of countries, and ample evidence of difficulties in the technology's application to policing, little or no independent testing has been reported, and no reliable independent assessments have been published. There is a serious shortfall in reliable information about:

5. As commonly practised, and as supported by currently available technologies, ANPR represents a gross privacy intrusion, and in some jurisdictions breaches privacy law, in the following ways:

6. As commonly practised, and as supported by currently available technologies, ANPR is a mass surveillance technique and breaches the human right of liberty of movement (UDHR 13.1, ICCPR 12.1). More specifically, with conventional ANPR:

7. The practice of ANPR can readily become arbitrary interference by law enforcement officers, in such ways as the following:

8. The effects of the practice of ANPR on the public reputation of law enforcement agencies and individuals can be positive, in that they will be seen to be active, and to be effective; but run a great risk of being seriously negative, in that they will be seen to be intrusive into the activities of law-abiding citizens, and a key part of a 'police state' apparatus that gathers vast quantities of information about people's movements.

9. An alternative approach to ANPR addresses many of these issues. The 'blacklist in camera' design involves:

10. Considerable commitment and investment are required in order to implement the alternative approach to ANPR in the face of the momentum that has been achieved in some countries overseas by the orthodox, grossly privacy-invasive form of ANPR.

11. It is vital that ANPR projects be conducted in a transparent manner, including published information, consultation, privacy impact assessment, and published results.

12. It is vital that Parliaments expressly preclude inappropriate designs for uses of ANPR, and expressly authorise appropriate designs for and uses of it.

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Created: 17 March 2008 - Last Amended: 18 March 2008 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 11 January 2009
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