Today we called upon the Scottish Government to act seriously over the concerns about Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) after we revealed that Police Scotland had over 850 million records. But what is ANPR and why should we be worried?
What is ANPR?
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology is used to help detect, deter and disrupt criminal activity across Scotland. It works by reading your number plates as you drive past and cross-checking it against its records of vehicles of interest. It could help identify if it is stolen or uninsured.
If you drive past a camera, it will see you and create a record of your journey.
What is the problem?
ANPR can be a useful tool in helping fight crime. But it is not just cars involved with crime that can be tracked. Earlier this year we uncovered that Police Scotland was hoarding more than 852 MILLION snapshots of people’s journeys, dating back years.
The overwhelming majority of these have no relation to active investigations or cases. They are records of innocent motorists’ journeys.
Police Scotland state that they have guidelines to control access to ANPR data to ensure that access is for legitimate investigation purposes. But they have already admitted records have been held for years longer than even this advice allowed. They are now in the process of trying to delete millions of snapshots gathered using ANPR from the database.
ANPR can help solve crimes. But information on the journeys we take must not be held longer than necessary and there must be proper safeguards.
Is this just about the police?
No. Other agencies like Transport Scotland are using this technology too. All without effective oversight or a clear set of rules governing its use to protect the privacy of people going about their day-to-day business.
What needs to be done?
The technology is relatively new, meaning robust laws to protect our privacy are not in place. The risk is clear but the SNP don’t seem interested.
We asked the Scottish Government whether they plan to introduce a new rules to ensure that ANPR can be used to crack down on criminals without affecting our privacy. They said no.
Not only do they need to rethink this, SNP ministers must explain why Police Scotland was allowed to amass thus huge surveillance system without any parliamentary debate or specific approval.