A report by Britain’s surveillance tsar has warned of problems with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology.
While senior officers insist that the technology is needed to help prevent and solve serious crimes, the Big Brother spy cameras are misreading 1.2million number plates every day. This means that innocent motorists could be caught up in police investigations while the criminals escape scot-free.
The Mail Online reports: Around 9,000 cameras across the country take photos of up to 40million number plates each day.
But Tony Porter, the independent surveillance camera commissioner, said that an estimated 3 per cent could be ‘misreads’.
This risks false arrest and prosecution, criminals and terrorists left to move around the roads freely, and loss of revenue from fines and vehicle taxes, he said.
He called on the Government to draw up new laws to set up minimum standards for the ANPR cameras so they are secure from cyber-attack – currently each force buys its own systems.
Mr Porter also demanded the tightening up of rules on who could produce licence plates to stamp out rogue suppliers who design them to ‘defeat the system’.
He said a compulsory ‘kitemark’ should be introduced to certify the make and manufacture of number plates by 20,000 firms so the ‘deliberate misuse of unlawful plates is easier to manage’.
For instance, the report warned that criminals could avoid capture by placing a decoy screw between two number ‘1’s, making it look like an ‘H’ – duping the cameras.’
Mr Porter said: ‘I think that there is an argument to say that the production of number plates is so integral to the system that even stricter controls need to be applied – akin to the production of driving licenses and passports – thereby providing the authorities with powers of examination and seizure.’
He said it was a ‘key concern’ that police forces did not know how many ‘misreads’ there were. But he told the Mail estimates suggested it was as high as 1.2million a day.
The technology is also fitted to police vehicles, and is used to find stolen cars and tackle uninsured drivers.
Each time a vehicle passes an ANPR camera it takes a picture of the number plate and the front of the car, including the driver’s face.
Police say this allows them to track criminals and terrorists in real time as they drive around. But privacy campaigners have long argued that the system, which allows officers to access the mountains of data for up to two years, is intrusive.
The data can also be accessed by Government departments and the DVLA to track down road tax cheats and issue fines.
He said the database, which contains details of 20billion vehicle journeys, was ‘one of the largest data gatherers of its citizens in the world’. He has also warned the system is illegal because it has never been placed on a statutory footing.
Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The state’s secretive ANPR surveillance is outrageous and makes UK citizens among the most spied on in the democratic world.
‘It lacks a clear legal basis, transparency, public consent and even risks dragging innocent people into police investigations. How many Brits know that their car journeys are being tracked and recorded by the Government?