Police number plate recognition camera rules tightened

Image caption The ANPR data is used by police to track vehicles

Police cameras that record motorists' movements must be more tightly regulated, Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered.

The 4,000-strong automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) network logs more than 10 million vehicles every day.

The government is to look at limiting access to the database of 7.6 billion images, details of number plates and the date, time and place of capture.

Privacy campaigners said restrictions on the ANPR network were long overdue.

The cameras capture the front of cars and photographs can include images of the driver and any passengers.

Ministers will consider how long these records can be held. The current limit is two years.

Mrs May says she wants proper accountability and safeguards in the use of this database.

It comes as a decision was taken to remove 72 ANPR cameras in Birmingham after it emerged their installation, in areas with large Muslim populations, had been funded through a Home Office counter-terrorism fund.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire told the Guardian the national changes were necessary for public confidence.

"Both CCTV and ANPR can be essential tools in combating crime but the growth in their use has been outside of a suitable governance regime," he said.

"To ensure that these important technologies continue to command the support and confidence of the public and are used effectively, we believe that further regulation is required.

"We are examining a number of options and will also be considering the work of the interim CCTV regulator, who is due to report to ministers shortly."

The government is also looking at introducing a lawful right for police forces to log the information and greater transparency over where the cameras are.

The system was rolled out in 2006 to track uninsured drivers and stolen cars.

Review 'overdue'

The cameras work by scanning number plates and checking them against information stored in various databases to identify vehicles of interest to the police.

An ANPR camera can read a number plate every second.

However, civil liberties group Big Brother Watch branded the network "an unnecessary and indiscriminate invasion of privacy."

Campaign director Dylan Sharpe said the review was "long overdue".

"ANPR gives the state the ability to track every car journey we make. It is about time that some restrictions were placed on the use of this intrusive technology."

The organisation was founded by the Taxpayers' Alliance pressure group, which lobbies for lower taxes and greater government efficiency.

Police say use of the cameras has led to the arrest of burglars, robbers and drug dealers, among others, and that they target criminals and not innocent law-abiding motorists.

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