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Police contradictions on ANPR

Posted on August 16, 2012

Close Up have done a piece about the NZ Police trials of automated number plate recognition (ANPR). (See our earlier article explaining it.)

The main civil liberties issue is that the system stores the time and location of the license plate check. Once enough of these systems are deployed they can be used to track people by following vehicle movements. We believe that, at a minimum, there should be some controls on how this data is stored and used, for example by having to apply for a tracking warrant.

Nothing to fear?

The Police were represented on Close Up by Superintendent Carey Griffiths who said that these fears were incorrect: "The system we are using here, we don't retain the data."

He went on to say: "Most of the cameras and systems we use drop it off at the end of the shift. We're certainly not using it for data mining."

Police contradictions

However, we have letters (first letter March 2011, second letter December 2011) from the Police that indicate a very different story:

"Details of vehicle movements captured during ANPR deployments will be retained on a secure Police database."

What sort of data is stored?

"The time, data and a photograph of all vehicles passing the ANPR camera is stored." and "Yes it will include the location or where the device was deployed."

And will they be used for tracking?

"Police may search the stored data if there is a belief that there may be information relation to a crime; e.g. where a serious crime has taken place and Police are looking for an offender's vehicle."

And do the Police think they need a warrant to track people in this way?

"There is no requirements for police to apply for a warrant for any ANPR information as it is gathered in a public place."

The big question

Who is correct - Superintendent Carey Griffiths, Road Policing Manager, who just appeared on Close Up or Superintendent Paula Rose, National Manager Road Policing, who wrote to us in March and December 2011?

Has the policy changed in the meantime? Was Superintendent Paula Rose incorrect? Or has Superintendent Carey Griffiths been misleading us all on national TV?

Edit (19/8/2012): We have written to the Commissioner of Police to ask for an explanation and will report back with any answer we get.

About Thomas Beagle

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  1. Initially we can expect the use of this data to be limited. The problem for the police will be managing the veritable flood of data. You will recall that speed cameras were only going to target the top 15% of speedsters. This was because they couldn’t handle any more at the time. Once they have figured out how to manage the data, this ‘resource’ will be milked for everything possible.

    At what point does this data gathering become wholesale surveillance?

    • ANPR is getting cheaper and many overseas jurisdictions seem to use much more highly automated systems in both mobile and fixed modes.

      It would be an interesting exercise to work out what density you need to cover 90% or more of car movements in NZ – but I suspect that it would happen well before putting them in every police car, especially if you took the UK approach and put fixed cameras throughout towns.

      As for handling the flood of data, that seems to be relatively solved these days judging by the number of Google Maps mashups that combine data and publicly available maps.


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