UK: Vehicle plate recognition video system ruled illegal

By EDRi · July 31, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [GB: Automatische Kennzeichenerfassung illegal |]

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), UK’s data protection
authority, issued on 24 July 2013, an Enforcement Notice asking the
Hertfordshire police to stop using a vehicle plate tracking system that
it considered as unlawful.

The ICO notice is a result of a complaint made in June 2013 by No CCTV,
Privacy International and Big Brother Watch against the so-called “Ring
of Steel” of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras around
the small town of Royston which is tracking all cars entering or leaving
the town.

The data collected by ANPR cameras is stored both in local force
databases and in a centralised database. License plate photos are stored
for two years and photographs of cars are stored for 90 days.
The notice issued by ICO said that the seven cameras around the town had
“effectively made it impossible for anyone to drive their car in and out
of Royston without a record being kept of the journey”.

According to ICO inquiries, the Hertfordshire Constabulary failed to
carry out “any effective impact assessments” before implementing the
system and decided that the system breached the Data Protection Act.

“It is difficult to see why a small rural town such as Royston, requires
cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town, 24 hours a day.
The use of ANPR cameras and other forms of surveillance must be
proportionate to the problem it is trying to address. After detailed
enquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire
Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn’t the case in
Royston. We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to
all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully
justified before they are installed,” stated ICO’s head of enforcement
Stephen Eckersley.

By this complaint, the three groups raised serious concerns over the
entire nationwide ANPR network which has been constructed by the police
without any public debate.

Charles Farrier of No CCTV welcomed ICO’s decision: “This is a landmark
decision. The ICO has validated our view that blanket vehicle tracking
should have no place in a democratic society. The Automatic Number Plate
Recognition (ANPR) camera network amounts to an automated checkpoint
system that is the stuff of totalitarianism. The ICO has ruled strongly
within the constraints of the Data Protection Act.”

ICO said that other UK police forces should be taking note of this
decision: “We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to
all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully
justified before they are installed. This includes carrying out a
comprehensive assessment of the impact on the privacy of the road-using

The Hertfordshire Constabulary stated it would not appeal this decision
and accepted the system needed additional privacy checks. It also state
that although it would continue to use such camera, it intended to work
with the Commissioner to “ensure that its particular deployment of such
cameras is – and is seen to be – fully justified.”

“We have already undertaken considerable analysis of the justification
for the use of these cameras in Royston and we have welcomed the
Commissioner’s offer of further advice on strengthening our privacy
impact assessments,” also said the police statement.

Article corrected on 11.09.2013 – correctly attribution of the statement “”We hope that this enforcement…”

Press Release – ICO Rules Royston Vehicle Number Plate Tracking Cameras
Unlawful (24.07.2013)

Data protection Act 1998 – Supervisor Powers of the Information
Commissioner Enforcing Notice (15.07.2013)

Police number plate camera scheme broke law in Royston (24.07.2013)

ICO slams police for invading motorists’ privacy with ‘unlawful’ ANPR
camera use (24.07.2013)