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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Another civil liberties challenge

This morning's Sunday Times reports that Police are facing the threat of a High Court privacy action over a nationwide network of cameras that is being used to take up to 14m photographs of motorists every day:

The images are being stored daily on a huge “Big Brother” database linked to automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) technology to track vehicles’ movements:

The records not only include details of car registrations, but often photographs of drivers and front-seat passengers, a police document has revealed.

They are being held on a database in Hendon, north London, for at least two years without drivers’ knowledge or permission.

The paper says that the ANPR network has expanded unchecked by parliament since police first decided to develop a national system in 2006:

It is now linked to more than 10,000 CCTV cameras discreetly placed on motorways, main roads and in petrol stations. It has also been integrated with the cameras originally set up in 2003 to enforce the congestion charge in London.

Software being developed for the system will eventually allow police to track the movements of up to 100m vehicles at any time — more than double the number currently on the road. The database can also be “mined” to track the past movements of specific vehicles.

Police insist the system concentrates on capturing a narrow picture of a car’s number plate. However, internal guidelines produced by the National Policing Improvement Agency show that in some areas ANPR “routinely captures the faces of front-seat occupants”.

At least one organisation is keen to test the basis on which ANPR operates. Like others they want to see proper accountability and safeguards put into place. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, the civil rights group, said it planned to launch the first legal challenge to the surveillance system.

“It’s bad enough that images and movements of millions of innocent motorists are being stored for years on end,” she said. “That the police are doing this with no legislative basis shows a contempt for parliament, personal privacy and the law. Yet another bloated database is crying out for legal challenge and we will happily oblige.”


"...There should be no love, but the love of big brother..."
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