Privacy Commissioner consulted on number plate recognition trial

Automatic number plate recognition trial results expected within two months

Trialling of automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) by the Police was accompanied by consultation with the Privacy Commissioner and the drafting of a privacy impact assessment [PIA], says Police spokesman Ross Henderson.

This contradicts reports last month, which suggested the Privacy Commissioner was not consulted.

A spokesperson for the Privacy Commissioner’s office, Annabel Fordham, confirms “we have found we did receive a draft PIA on the proposal back in 2010, and a longish memo or note of some sort at the start of 2011. Ross’s comment is correct. I gather that both documents were actually under a Ministry of Justice header/logo rather than Police, although I believe [Police] is where they originated.”

In any case, says Henderson, “Police have qualified legal experts who were involved in development of the procedures for the ANPR trial to ensure they are consistent with privacy law and all other legal requirements as appropriate.”

Although the ANPR equipment can gather information from scores of vehicles in one period of deployment, the numbers retrieved are matched specifically against a database of “vehicles of interest” being sought in connection with possible offences. “All data obtained from ANPR deployments automatically drops off the ANPR database after six months,” says a Police manual.

“ANPR is an effective operational tool which has been successfully implemented by enforcement agencies around the world. It is designed to assist police to identify vehicles of interest (not individuals) without disrupting other road users,” Henderson says. “It is not used to detect minor traffic infringements.”

ANPR is “simply the automation of a process that would normally be done via a conversation between an officer and a communications dispatcher on the police radio,” says the spokesman, so ANPR should give little additional cause for privacy worries.

“If however, people have concerns regarding their privacy being breached, then contacting the Privacy Commissioner is one of the options available to them,” he says.

The ANPR trial has finished and the results, which are currently being evaluated, are expected within two months.

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