The Automatic Number Plate Recognition system in the UK requires a governance structure to ensure its safe and legal operation as a crime and terrorism fighting tool. My conversations with senior police operating the system suggests that they would welcome a proportionate modern system of governance and regulation. The new Investigatory Powers Bill reveals a strange lacuna around ANPR, a system that I think the bill’s draftsmen simply forgot about when designing the new Investigatory Powers regime.
With any intelligence agency use of ANPR remaining unavowed and unspecified in the new Arrangements for Bulk Personal Datasets, without public clarity on what is kept, for how long, and how it may be used, and ANPR use by the agencies would seem to fall short of the legal requirements laid down by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Also should the Home Secretary avow intelligence agency use of ANPR then any copy of ANPR data kept by the agencies would fall under a far stricter governance regime than the original data, which is absurd. There is also the risk that the retention by the police of data beyond the three years for which is was originally collected could be seen by the Information Tribunal as breaking the law, given the weight of tens of billions [repeat billions] of records of innocents people’s journeys which the police are considering storing for up to ten years.
So what might a modern governance structure for this system of systems look like that de-risks legal threats to the operation of ANPR as a counter-terrorism and crime fighting tool, provides sufficient oversight to maintain public confidence but allows operational voices to drive the system for policing needs? Here is my first shot.
Create a top level governance authority to ‘own’ ANPR – CAMORG, say. This should be a board with broadly based membership that owns the system as a whole. The board should operate through a body independent of the individual forces and NPCC. CAMORG should run the new national control centre due for operation in Summer 2016, that will bring greatly enhanced capability.
The board of CAMORG is responsible to Parliament for ANPR
CAMORG board sets, through public consultation and then publishes policies for ANPR such as: data collection, storage, sharing and retention, growth/contraction, technology, data standards, consultation, accountability, budgets, needs and impact analyses etc. Where the board deems is necessary for effective operation some policies and processes should remain out of public view.
The national user group that currently runs ANPR should report to CAMORG and would be expected to draft policies etc with a small secretariat at CAMORG
The CAMORG board should comprise:
Independent executive Chair
Chief Executive for ANPR
Surveillance Camera Commissioner
representatives of three police forces
a representative of the intelligence agencies
Police and Crime Commissioner
barrister whose practice is representing clients at the Information Tribunal
civil liberties body
victim of crime whose case was solved through ANPR use
appropriate intelligence services regulator
journalist specialising in data protection issues
This list is obviously too long for regular meetings and an operational sub group should be selected. Board appointments should be remunerated at a market rate.
The board would make an annual report to parliament and the ICO and expect to be examined by the Home Affairs and Intelligence Select Committees. The report would set out that year’s policies and an extensive statistical break down of the use of ANPR, its role in tackling major crimes and errors of problems that may have arisen.
I strongly support the operation of ANPR as a system to fight crime and protect us from terrorism. The police forces feel equally strongly that the system is fundamental to modern policing. The outline above might require some legislation, but also might not as the current system operates without specific provision. It will require some expenditure. But the expenditure and effort required is de minimis when compared to the benefits the system gives to the authorities and the colossal scale of its gathering, storage and processing of innocent peoples’ journey data. As a first step a ‘shadow’ board could be created almost straight away, certainly in time for the new operations centre coming on line in the Summer. And a ground clearing report/independent audit of the current system commissioned to surface any issues.
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