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Commissioner sounds warning over future of ANPR

Fraser Sampson
Image source: GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

The biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner has warned that there could be a loss of public trust in automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology without the right regulatory framework.

Fraser Sampson (pictured) has highlighted the issue in a speech to the National ANPR Conference.

He said the growing potential to merge the data with that from other technologies, including surveillance camera systems, is blurring some of the lines around their functions and what is legally permissible.

“The clear bright line beyond which this becomes directed surveillance is perhaps becoming less clear and less bright than in the past, but technological developments in biometrics and surveillance have meant that our capability to prepare for, respond to and recover from global crises has increased beyond anything our forebears might have realistically imagined,” he said.

“Technological development means having fewer and larger aggregated databases which in turn means that - while they ought to reduce the likelihood of breaches - they potentially increase the impact of any such breach should it happen- and it probably will at some point.”

Questioning the purpose

He added that the technology and data is all part of the critical national infrastructure, but when it is applied by the state it leads some people to question its purpose. This is especially the case when, as he claimed, the Government does not yet follow its own Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.

This creates the need for an effective legal framework, and while there are National ANPR Standards for Policing and Law Enforcement, the regulatory landscape is highly complex and difficult for the public to navigate.

Overall, this is creating a societal risk to ANPR in which people could withdraw their support for its use, Sampson said.

He said this creates the need for the next framework to be designed in response to a “thoughtful and comprehensive consultation”.

“This is not just about ANPR,” he concluded. “We need to be able to have confidence in the whole ecosystem of surveillance and be sure that what is technologically possible is both legally permissible and societally acceptable.”


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