August 14th, 2009

We know where you went

Posted in The Job - General by 200

An essential crime-fighting tool or a case of the state snooping too far?

Figures released in the Daily Telegraph suggest that the average motorist has their car photographed 100 times a year by the ever-growing web of ANPR cameras.

Automatic Number Plate Readers are cameras linked to a massive database which records every vehicle which passes it 24-hours every day of the year.

In split seconds they are able to interrogate the Police National Computer to find out who owns the vehicle & whether it is stolen, insured, taxed & MOT’d or of other police interest.

‘Of police interest’ could be any number of reasons from driver wanted for murder, number plates from it reported stolen to driver reported missing or involved in crime.

Within a second or 2 of the vehicle passing an ANPR camera, a warning is sent through to the local police control who can circulate details to any nearby patrols to get the vehicle stopped.

A photograph of every vehicle which passes the camera is recorded on the database which in many cases is clear enough to identify the driver & any occupants.

A profile can be built up of the journeys of every vehicle recorded so in theory, the police could be waiting for you on your regular journey to or from the pub or could find out which towns you were in at what time on what date.

There are currently some 34million vehicles in the UK, estimated figures based on enquiries with 27 UK forces show that around 3billion number plates were recorded last year.

ANPR has been a highly effective tool in the detection of crime & criminals, thousands of stolen cars are found as a result of ‘pinging’ ANPR cameras. However, it not only records details of ‘vehicles of police interest’ but all vehicles. A photograph of you on an illicit journey with your  bosses wife sat next to you could be sitting on a police database right now (only if you have been in such circumstances, obviously).

Tory MP, Charles Hendry said: “There is a balance that needs to be struck between fighting crime & infringing the freedom of the law-abiding public. Law-abiding people should feel they can go about their business without being snooped on by the state.”

So, an essential crime-fighting tool or a case of the state snooping too far? You decide.

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  1. Ex-RUC says:

    It’s not an exactly new or original comment but if you’ve got nothing to hide, why worry? Obviously, we could flog the photos of celebs to the tabloids and recoup enough money for a few more bobbies!

    August 14th, 2009 at 20:39

  2. Jimbob says:

    To be honest though however useful it is at seeing trends and if a certain number plate pinged in a certain area within a certain timeframe, the pictures it comes up with aren’t exactly perfect. If it’s dark or even too sunny you can barely see a thing. And most times all you can prove is someone was in the drivers seat.

    Like most articles written concerning the advance of technology affecting peoples civil liberties, it reads like the brochure rather than the reality.

    August 14th, 2009 at 20:58

  3. copper bottom says:

    sorry mate- that isnt right…

    the ANPR database only records the movement of vehicles that have INFO REPORTS not every car!!!

    that would breach RIPA…

    August 14th, 2009 at 21:02

  4. 200 says:

    The static cameras record every car number plate which goes through & can be searched back.
    Hence you can search to find if a stolen vehicle has gone through the cameras in the time between it being stolen & reported stolen. I think you’re wrong.

    For instance, see:
    The figures obtained by the Courier under the Freedom of Information Act has shown Sussex Police captured 233.8 million images in 2008, the equivalent of 7.5 every second and a 525 per cent increase on the 44.5 million records created in 2007.”

    233.8 million images, that’s an awful lot of times the ones with info-markers on them drive through the cameras, Sussex criminals must be really busy!

    I think this is more like it, from the same article:
    Hits on so-called “vehicles of interest” – ranging from those with no insurance to ones linked to known criminals – rose from 1.3 million in 2007 to 6.25 million last year.”

    But don’t take it from a local paper, here’s a section from the ACPO ANPR Strategy Document 2005-2008 which suggests exactly what I mentioned above…. it’s one of the ‘advert’ scenarios extolling the various ways ANPR can be used.

    The BCU Tactical Unit swears by ANPR as well. They have been looking for John Bluebank in order to arrest him for days. He is one of their PPO’s and yesterday they got information he was being picked up in a vehicle on a regular basis. They searched past ANPR reads for this vehicle and found it was usually seen crossing the town bridge between 4:00pm and 4:30pm, so they were now on route to plot up. ‘No need for the ANPR team here as we now know where he will be and when’ said DC Blackwell.

    And this is from the ACPO publication E.C.H.R., Data Protection & RIPA Guidance Relating to the Police use of A.N.P.R.

    During operation many ANPR systems attempt to generate a log of all VRNs passing the equipment. This log of vehicles “sightings” could be viewed as an invasion into an individual’s right to privacy as set out at Article 8 and therefore could amount to a breach of Human Rights legislation.
    It then goes on to discuss why this isn’t a breach of Human Rights & in what circumstances RIPA would apply.

    August 14th, 2009 at 21:14

  5. 200 says:


    yes, granted that lots of pics are of no use to ID the driver or passengers but lots are as clear as day, it depends on the positioning of the cameras, the point at which the shot is taken, the weather conditions, level of daylight or street light.

    The fact that the implementation of the technology might be a bit iffy now the fact that it can & does take photos of individuals good enough to ID them is the important factor, not that fact that it might not operate at that level 100% of the time.

    August 14th, 2009 at 21:40

  6. Boy on a bike says:

    I chanced upon a very simple and cheap solution yesterday whilst having a stroll at lunchtime.

    August 14th, 2009 at 22:37

  7. Tom Gane says:

    I am, I have to confess, very uncomfortable with the idea that images of motorists being retained on a database is disturbing. However, I find some relief in the fact that vehicles can be ‘pinged’ if they are of interest to police.

    I think that some commonsensical approach needs to be applied, as I believe this is a very useful tool for police.

    August 15th, 2009 at 12:57

  8. Jimbob says:

    Maybe the simple solution in this technological day and age is for face recognition type software to scramble the faces automatically. I know such technology exists. Then, if the police have a valid reason for needing to access that image it will need to authority of a senior officer to permit it.

    August 15th, 2009 at 19:30

  9. copper bottom says:

    you said ‘Hence you can search to find if a stolen vehicle has gone through the cameras in the time between it being stolen & reported stolen. I think you’re wrong’

    well a stolen vehicle DOES have a PNC report on!

    In my force- the ANPR database is maintained- you have to PUT a report on the vehicle (5x5x5 intelligence report -sanitised by trained intel officers- like me)…

    An ordinary car DOES NOT have reports on- we only track cars with reports on – because they are the only cars we need…

    again- ‘“Hits on so-called “vehicles of interest” – ranging from those with no insurance to ones linked to known criminals – rose from 1.3 million in 2007 to 6.25 million last year.”

    more cars with reports… i think where you have gone wrong is you are confining your thinking to PNC reports – it can be ANY type of report…

    Stolen vehicles
    Vehicles with intel reports
    Vehicles with PNC info reports (used by known criminals or sex offenders etc…)
    Vehicles that have no insurance details HELD (so may have it – just not held)
    Vehicles that have no VEL held
    Vehicles that have SORN on
    Vehicles that have no MOT held…

    when you factor them in -I bet there is scope for two million hits…

    August 15th, 2009 at 20:27

  10. MarkUK says:

    If the system retains all numbers then it shouldn’t. If there is a reason for a particular number to be watched, then that’s fair enough.

    I wouldn’t mind if all numbers were retained for a short time – say 4 hours – in case something comes up. After that, they should be erased in a secure manner (i.e. multiple over-writes).

    I want to see the police have the technology to fight crime but I do not want them to have information that is of no use for that, but could be used by unscrupulous barstewards for their own ends.

    The “nothing to hide…” business is simply childish. People may have things to hide that are not the business of the police. Knocking off the boss’s wife (or even the boss) may be something you’d wish to keep quiet, but it’s nothing to do with the constabulary. similarly, what about the Methodist minister who fancies a flutter on the 2.30 at Kempton? The Imam who likes his bacon butties? None of this belongs on a database, as NO database is, or can be, 100% secure.

    For people who claim they have nothing to hide – why do you wear clothes in warm weather?

    August 15th, 2009 at 21:13

  11. Oi says:

    For people who claim they have nothing to hide – why do you wear clothes in warm weather?

    While I agree with the tenor of your post, your analogy isnt really relevant – people in general, wear clothes in warm weather because of public mores, not because they have anything to hide.

    Really its simple. While I have nothing to hide, I object strongly to anyone at all – let alone the state that has more data leaks than a hessian sack – snooping and recording my lawful activities.

    August 15th, 2009 at 22:28

  12. 200 says:

    Copper Bottom,

    do you have cops who work in the Minority Report mode whereby they can put a stolen report on a vehicle which hasn’t been reported stolen yet, then? You’ve completely misunderstood what I said so I’ll repeat it:
    “Hence you can search to find if a stolen vehicle has gone through the cameras in the time between it being stolen & reported stolen” and I’ll explain. A stolen vehicle only goes on PNC when it is reported stolen by the loser. You will know that most people don’t see their car being stolen, so there is a varying amount of time in which the car is stolen but not reported as so, for instance, when it gets nicked overnight and the owner finds it goen when they get up the next morning.
    ANPR systems can be searched to see what cameras the car went through between the time it was stolen & the time the PNC report went on, if the ANPR database does not contain vehicles which don’t have markers on, how can this be possible? It’s possible because ALL vehicles which go through ANPR cameras are recorded.

    I know an ordinary car doesn’t have markers on it & won’t trigger a police warning in the control room to say ti’s just gone through the camera, that is completely immaterial.

    The fact remains that ALL vehicles which go through ANPR cameras are recorded and can be searched – hence my quoting the ACPO documents which clearly give exactly the scenario that a car which is of no previous interest to the police can become of interest & then can he historically searched for records on the ANPR database.

    I think you are confusing the national recording of ANPR data with your local intelligence database which is inputted & updated daily by each force showing vehicles of interest; this is just a small section of the entire data recorded by ANPR cameras.

    Just look at the info from the Surrey newspaper which says in Surrey 233 million images were recorded, yet says only 6.25 million ‘hits’ were recorded….surely, if the database only recorded vehicles of interest it would have precisely 6.25 million images & not 233million?

    August 16th, 2009 at 00:32

  13. copper bottom says:

    well if that is the case- then we have a problem…

    Our intel system access anpr- and it does not show any hit unless there is a report of somekind on the system…

    I have searched many times for vehicles and the system comes up neg…

    if the ANPR was recording ALL vehicles- it is inconceivable that I would not get a hit…

    I think diff forces must do diff things with ANPR…

    I am surprised Liberty are not shouting from the rooftops about that one..

    August 16th, 2009 at 08:36

  14. 200 says:


    are you sure you have access to the full system & not just your local ANPR intel marker database?

    Also, how do you think the London Congestion charge works? It captures ALL vehicles going into London & records them on a database.

    As for Liberty, well they don’t seem to have a search facility on their website so I don;t know if they have pronounced on it or not, but a simple search on Google will reveal lots of people expressing concerns.

    a quote from the Thames Valley Police website on how ANPR works….

    *How ANPR works

    * As a vehicle passes through an ANPR video camera, it takes an image of the number plate.
    * The number plate details are fed into a system which checks them against sources such as the Police National Computer (PNC), Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), local Force intelligence systems and motor insurers’ databases.
    * If the number plate matches one of these sources, the ANPR equipment will beep. Vehicles which have sounded an alert will be stopped by police officers for further investigation or to gather intelligence. Read about stop and search in a vehicle.
    * Only vehicles that are highlighted by enforcement agency databases will be stopped. Law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from ANPR operations.”

    All the images are captured & entered onto a massive database. & can be searched through.
    I’ve seen various comments on how long they are kept but several years seems to be the norm. (I think this is discussed in the ACPO documents above)

    I don’t think many people have a problem with data of criminals/stolen/uninsured cars being captured, it’s the massive group of ‘innocent’ people’s data/movements being tracked that is the problem.

    August 16th, 2009 at 11:26

  15. Civ_In_The_City says:

    It is accurate to say that the ANPR system retains all number plates read by the cameras (‘reads’) and only ‘hits’ are acted upon immediately. A ‘hit’ is when a read number plate matches one in a list/database somewhere, these are the ones that can trigger a suitable sound from the ANPR system for the operator to respond to.

    However. The more cameras you have feeding into your central ANPR database, and depending on the location of the camera, you may end up with overwhelming amounts of data. This data has to be ‘weeded’ off the system after a reasonable amount of time, simply to make space for new reads and hits.

    I think the aim is to retain reads for 90 days and hits for 2 years, but each force will have their own tale to tell on what is currently possible.

    There are two other points, 1) ANPR was a nationally mandated system. Basically government said forces had to have it and stumped up cash to those who showed an interest straight away. 2) A vehicle that isn`t of interest today, may well be in a months time. The usefulness of the ANPR database as an intelligence database is a bonus.

    We can save the ‘rights and wrongs’ debate until the facial recognition software comes on stream.

    Either way it creates a hell of lot less controversy as random stop and search. A real no-win situation.

    August 16th, 2009 at 12:55

  16. Superman says:

    you’re ranting on about the police being able to back check vehicles of interest, and you give the example of a car that is stolen and the logs being checked to see if it has been past.
    You fail to explain, WHY is this a bad thing? If your car had been stolen you’d be asking us to do the same thing.

    You’re also labouring under the delusion that the local police actually CARE about who you are and where you drive. You give further examples of the Iman eating his bacon buttie and the man having an extra-marital affair. Please, enlighten us as Police Officers, WHY the hell would we ever be bothered by any of this? Where would we find the time to check up on people doing nothing illegal when we’re having a hard enough time with the real criminals?

    August 18th, 2009 at 06:22

  17. 200 says:


    read it again, I haven’t actually given an opinion about whether it’s good or bad, I have just explained some facts about the system & left it open for discussion. So I think ‘ranting’ is a bit harsh as the follow-ups were merely trying to explain to someone who didn’t get what I said in the initial post!

    Indeed, I said “ANPR has been a highly effective tool in the detection of crime & criminals, thousands of stolen cars are found as a result of ‘pinging’ ANPR cameras.

    But just to take your points a little further. I’m sure the police don’t care about your personal finance & bank transactions. Would you be happy allowing them access to the bank’s database showing all the payments which go in & out so they could search it just in case at some future date I might start taking bribes? I wouldn’t.
    I’m sure there are many other cases where the state could store personal information but we are not happy to let them until they have good cause.

    And if the police don’t care about all this information, why do they need access to it?

    I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised that there are many examples of the police/state misusing information for their own ends which was illegal. Misuse of surveillance, release of DNA information to which they were not entitled, etc etc.

    The question (which I haven’t addressed with my own opinion, yet, merely asked for others) is whether the police/state’s right to pry into the private lives of citizens on a purely speculative basis that a citizen might at some unspecified time in the future do something illegal, is fair & proportionate.

    August 18th, 2009 at 12:32

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