Police spend $5m on plate-reading cameras

Automatic number plate recognition signalled as future Police application

New Zealand Police has spent $5 million on a new fleet of speed cameras that could, through a software upgrade, be used to read as well as record vehicle licence plates.

Police have chosen cameras capable of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), a controversial technology, rolled out in the UK in 2003, that has raised concern about Police tracking vehicle movements and invasion of privacy.

Last month, Australian company RedFlex Traffic Systems won the contract to replace New Zealand’s fleet of mobile speed cameras. Computerworld subsequently requested the original tender documents and business plan for the project under the Official Information Act.

The tender document, under the heading “Capability to integrate with future applications”, asks suppliers to provide information on software ugrades and “how the system can be extended to an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system”.

Police have confirmed the devices bought from RedFlex, RedFlex Radarcams, are not able to undertake ANPR at present but can be upgraded.

According to Wikipedia, ANPR rollouts have led to fears of misidentification and “1984-style surveillance”. Other concerns relate to the storage and misuse of information collected. Some oppose ANPR as a step towards an “automated” justice system, while others say the primary purpose of such systems is revenue generation rather than law enforcement.

ASX-listed RedFlex, based in Melbourne, claims to be the world’s largest speed and red light camera outsourcing provider. It has contracts with more than 200 US cities, and is the largest provider of digital red light and speed enforcement services in North America, with photo speed programmes in nine states and photo red light programmes in 21.

In May Redflex cameras were deployed in Auckland to boost red light enforcement.

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