Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is ANPR legal?

Thanks to an inquiry sent through FYI, the Privacy Commissioner is now investigating the legality of the Police's use of Automatic Number-Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology:

Police software that automatically collects numberplates to nab offenders could be illegal, the privacy commissioner says.

The tracking technology, known as automatic numberplate recognition, has already been condemned overseas, where critics have likened it to Big Brother-style surveillance.

The New York Police Department used it to spy on mosques and track worshippers through their numberplates.

In New Zealand, it is still being tested by police, but the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has questioned whether even a trial is legal.

There are particular concerns about police gathering information without people's knowledge, which could then be retained and possibly used for other purposes.

These are serious issues. In the UK, ANPR is pervasive, and the data is retained for years, allowing police to effectively track the movements of large numbers of people over an extended period. Initially, New Zealand police were retaining data from their trials for months - but this was stopped after people started asking questions (and looking at the paper trail (doc 13), the trigger was... that FYI request). Sadly, the police still seem to be in total denial about the privacy issues, relying on crude analogies to argue for a total surveillance state. Hopefully the Privacy Commissioner will succeed in limiting that desire, and ensure that all surveillance is limited, reasonable, and lawful.