Protection of Freedoms Bill

Memorandum submitted by the European Secure Vehicle Alliance (ESVA) (PF 11)


(1.1) Whilst the general thrust and approach of the Bill are well founded, ESVA strongly recommends that action must be taken to significantly upgrade the regime associated with the production and distribution of vehicle number plates. Failure to do so will limit the efficacy and ultimately public acceptance of the measures being undertaken to establish Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) across the United Kingdom.


(2.1) My comments are influenced by three discrete experiences. Most importantly I have served as ESVA’s executive director – an associate parliamentary group – since its formation in 1992. ESVA focuses on vehicle related crime and disorder and on building the cohort of compliant motorists and has considerable expertise regarding ANPR.

(2.2) Secondly, I have been involved in policing as a citizen since 1994 and currently am vice-chairman of my local Neighbourhood Action Group but also served as an independent member of Thames Valley Police Authority from 2005 till 2009.

And thirdly, I have developed a keen interest in the education and development of young people and have long experience of school governorship and youth club management. From 2007 to the present time, I have served as safeguarding manager for Bucks. County Rugby Football Union.


(3.1) I applaud the overall thrust of the Bill and judge that my experience and concerns have been encapsulated well. The proposed changes in the scope of the Vetting and Barring Scheme are extremely welcome and will provide a welcome stimulus to the recruitment of volunteers across many aspects of community involvement.

(3.2) ESVA’s involvement with ANPR has been considerable and a comprehensive briefing was written for parliamentarians in Autumn 2009 and is attached.

The Bill addresses effectively many of the issues raised in the briefing but there is one critical matter, namely the inappropriateness of the UK’s current regime to manufacture and distribute vehicle number plates, which does warrant government attention.

(3.3) The scale of the ANPR camera network is now significant, providing in excess of 10 million reads per day and certainly justifies parliamentary attention to ensure that concerns regarding oppressive surveillance are satisfied. ANPR’s value in meeting society’s expectations to reduce the threats associated with inappropriate use of vehicles is based on the integrity of the data that it analyses – namely a vehicle’s number plate.

(3.4) In ESVA’s view – the United Kingdom is now in the enviable position of having developed the most comprehensive ANPR network in the world – but perversely has perhaps the most ineffective vehicle number plate manufacturing and distribution regime in the world. A reasonable assessment would be to accept that 1% of vehicle number plates are non-compliant in some way and as a result could raise an alert on the national ANPR infrastructure. One might consider that 1% non-compliance is acceptable – but this constitutes over 300,000 vehicles and could generate in excess of 100,000 alerts per day on the national ANPR system thus adding considerable clutter on a system which should be finely tuned to highlight vehicles of genuine concern.

Failure to address this ‘clutter’ will prejudice the general public’s perception of ANPR’s value if it fails to act effectively and also captures compliant motorists

within enforcement regimes that should only be applied to non-compliant motorists.

(3.5) At the peak of vehicle crime in the mid 1990’s – the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) presented a plan to the Home Office with 14 recommendations to reduce vehicle crime and ESVA has maintained a keen interest in their proposals since that time. One recommendation was the adoption of the Swedish method of number plate manufacture and distribution – they have one central supplier of security printed number plates linked to their equivalent of the DVLA which has been operating successfully since 1972.

(3.6) The United Kingdom has 40,000 suppliers of number plates and little control of what is becoming to be regarded as a commodity as are batteries and windscreen wipers.

And yet the UK motorist is charged at least the equivalent of a 50% premium for a set of plates versus the price charged to Swedish motorists.

(3.7) Sweden has a reputation of being an international leader in road related issues – seat belts were adopted in Sweden 25 years before legislation in the UK – and on such a basis – a new number plate regime should have been implemented in 1997 in the UK – and would have happened if government had adopted the ACPO recommendation.

(3.8) The Vehicles (Crime) Act was enacted in 2002 and made minor amendments to the UK’s number plate regime in establishing a register of suppliers but has in reality made no impact on the integrity of the system which has also been weakened by the growth of internet suppliers.

(3.9) A study of the number plate regime across the European Community indicates that the majority of members operate a single source supplier of number plates attuned to the Swedish model and most other countries where there is a strong regional governance structure, eg France, Germany and Holland, also have rigorous regimes in place which aim to give all number plates a high degree of integrity.

(3.10) Most countries now consider number plates to be securely produced national documents with a direct link to the national vehicle registration authority whilst the UK regime currently fails absolutely to meet either of these criteria.

March 2011

Annex 1:




ANPR continues to develop its effectiveness but is now at a stage in its evolution where there needs to be a fundamental review of its use and governance. Ideally, this should be within a framework that includes all other types of camera-based technology.

The Home Office in its recent consultation on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 and the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution (HoL SCC) in its report, ‘Surveillance: Citizens and the State’, would both benefit by adopting a wider strategic and contextual framework.

Surveillance is regarded by both RIPA and HoL SCC as their primary focus but attention also needs to be given to database management and the promotion of greater citizen compliance.

There should be an acceptance that issues around the privacy of the individual and surveillance can be complex. However, management and development of ANPR should be simplified by the adoption of enhanced, proven vehicle number plate manufacture and distribution systems used in other European countries such as Sweden and Norway.

Even though ANPR has already made a measurable contribution to policing, its potential to add further value is significant. Camera technology continues to improve as should database accuracy, analysis and management.

ANPR’s policing spectrum is extremely wide in its ability to address terrorist threats to local neighbourhood issues associated with non-compliant vehicles. This ubiquity presents policing teams and their partners with a challenge in determining priorities whilst there is also a shift in operating methods as ‘hits’ will now be available from a national data centre whilst previously ‘hits’ were obtained and assessed by operating road-side units.


This broad review seeks to explore the progression of ANPR over the past 33 years and help shape its future development by reflecting on what lessons can be learned to date from its own and related technologies. The challenges that ANPR faces will be described in the four following areas :

(1) Current and proposed legislation;

(2) Views and concerns related to surveillance and data protection expressed by the general public, public servants and campaigning groups;

(3) Appropriate governance;

(4) Potential impact on policing strategies and operating practices.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a mass surveillance method that uses optical character recognition to read the licence plates on vehicles. Modern cameras are capable of reading one plate per second on vehicles travelling at up to 100mph (160 km/h) and a UK data centre has recently been established by the police with the capacity to store 50 million reads per day.

The History of ANPR.

ANPR was invented in 1976 in the UK at what was then know as the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB) (now titled Home Office Scientific Development Branch) and the first arrest due to a detected stolen vehicle was made in 1981 [1] .

Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist bombings in the City of London resulted in the establishment of the ‘ring of steel’ in 1993 – a surveillance and security cordon using initially CCTV cameras. In 1997, ANPR cameras, linked to police databases, were fitted at entrances to the ring of steel and gave feedback to monitoring officers within four seconds [2] .

Such a strategic approach was also interpreted as a traffic management strategy and proved to be the testing bed prior to the introduction of the London Congestion Charge in 2003.

In October 2002, the Home Office Police Standards Unit (PSU) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) helped introduce dedicated intercept teams using ANPR in nine police forces.

A series of successful trials, titled ‘Laser 1’, ‘Laser 2’, ‘Laser 3’ and ‘Laser 4’ resulted in all forces having the ability to operate ANPR generated response teams by 2006. Also, provision was also made for the development of a National ANPR Data Centre (NADC) and a Back Office Facility (BOF) system providing ANPR data storage and analytical tools for all forces in England and Wales [3] .

It was envisaged that such facilities would be delivered in 2007 but the national infrastructure capability is becoming operational in 2009. The NADC currently receives between 8 to 10 million number plate reads every day but the system has been designed to have the capacity to store 50 million reads a day [4] .

The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) agreed to take responsibility for the delivery of the National ANPR Infrastructure in 2007. More recently, a wide-ranging Police National ANPR programme has been established, led by the NPIA, to deliver the ACPO Strategy on ANPR. This is managed by a Board comprising NPIA, ACPO and APA (Association of Police Authorities) membership and covers all aspects of technology, policy and standards development.


Legislation always follows technological and societal advances and it is a challenge for data protection authorities to keep pace with these advances and apply legislation and develop policy in rapidly changing circumstances [5] . (Ref. 5)

ANPR technology and its usage has yet to attract specific legislation and to date has generally been linked to CCTV legislation as and when appropriate.

However, the recent Home Office public consultation paper (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) : ‘Consolidating Orders and Codes of Practice’, April 2009) does make specific reference to ANPR in the area of overt and directed, covert surveillance situations, as described in the two paragraphs and examples that follow :

Para 2.28: ‘The use of overt CCTV systems by public authorities does not require authorisation under the 2000 Act. Members of the public will be aware that such systems are in use and their operation is covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the CCTV Code of Practice 2008. Similarly the use of ANPR systems to monitor traffic flows or detect motoring offences does not require an authorisation under the 2000 Act. The use of ANPR in this manner will obtain personal data through capture of the vehicle registration number but the use of such systems is also conducted in accordance with the framework of the Data Protection Act 1998.’


There may be circumstances where overt surveillance equipment, such as town centre CCTV systems or ANPR is used to gather information as part of a reactive operation (e.g. Attempt to identify offenders for criminal damage offences in a town centre or disqualified drivers). This may not necessarily amount to covert surveillance if the persons subject to the surveillance are aware that it is taking place. Use in these circumstances is unlikely to interfere with Article 8 rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and is generally no more than an intelligence driven use of crime prevention and detection capability of CCTV or ANPR.

Para 2.29: ‘However, where CCTV or ANPR systems are used in a covert and pre-planned manner for such surveillance of a specific person or group of people, a directed surveillance authorisation should be sought. Such covert surveillance forms part of a specific investigation or operation and may result in the obtaining of private information about a person (namely, a record of their movements and activities) and therefore falls properly within the definition of directed surveillance. The use of the CCTV or ANPR system in these circumstances goes beyond their intended use for the general prevention and detection of crime and protection of the public.


A local police team receive information that an individual suspected of committing thefts from motor vehicles is known to be in the town centre area. A decision is taken to use the town centre CCTV system to conduct surveillance against that individual such that he remains unaware that there may be any specific interest in him. The targeted, covert use of overt town centre system to monitor and/or record that individual’s movements should be the subject of a directed surveillance authorisation.

This above example could be judged as somewhat bureaucratic and the consultation invites comments and views on seven questions, including one pertinent to ANPR: What more should be done to reduce bureaucracy for the police so that they can use RIPA more easily to protect the public against criminals?

The original act was a response to the Human Rights Act 1998 and created a regulatory framework to govern the way that public authorities use covert investigatory techniques.

The techniques regulated in RIPA are subject to safeguards approved by Parliament to ensure that investigatory powers are exercised compatibly with the European Court of Human Rights.

In particular, the substantive protections of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) are guaranteed by the express terms of RIPA which only permit the authorisation of the relevant techniques if the tests of necessity and proportionality are satisfied.

Authority can only be granted by designated officers of sufficient seniority and in the case of the most intrusive techniques, independent prior approval is required.

ANPR falls into the Directed Surveillance technique category and oversight is the responsibility of one of three independent commissioners (The Chief Surveillance Commissioner) and his concerns were the first to be expressed, four years ago, by a public servant and are summarised below in section 5.

The Information Commissioners Office issued its CCTV Code of Practice – Revised Edition 2008. The code provides good practice advice for those involved in operating CCTV and other devices which view or record images that relate to individuals (for example vehicle registration marks) [6] .

The code was first published in 2000 and has the benefit of having been tested over the last decade in a relatively open and public arena

The code contains guidance on issues such as:

Ensuring effective administration, storing and viewing the images, disclosure, retention, letting people know, subject access requests, staying in control, monitoring your workforce.

Although ANPR remains relatively in its infancy, its databases will also be subject to Freedom of Information enquiries which generally will be considered appropriate as regards data held on the enquirer but not on another party.


The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution in its second report of session 2008/9 – ‘Surveillance: Citizens and the State’ makes two recommendations relating to CCTV:

(a) We recommend that the Home Office commission an independent appraisal of the existing research evidence on the effectiveness of CCTV in preventing, detecting and investigating crime.

(b) We recommend that the Government should propose a statutory regime for the use of CCTV by both public and private sectors, introduce codes of practice that are legally binding on all CCTV schemes and establish a system of complaints and remedies.

This system should be overseen by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner in conjunction with the Information Commissioner Office [7] .

The context within which surveillance systems are assessed in terms of their efficacy and legislative framework might well consider broadening its scope to include road safety camera and ANPR systems in addition to CCTV. Consideration could perhaps also be given to including police use of hand-held, head and body cameras.


Two recent reports both indicate general public support for the usage of ANPR by the police.

(1) A Populus/AA on-line panel survey of 75,000 AA members in March 2009 framed the following question:

ANPR cameras are used in a variety of circumstances on the roads (e.g. monitoring traffic flow, managing the London congestion charge, helping authorities spot illegal vehicles, monitoring criminals) [8] .

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

"Knowing that ANPR cameras are used on the roads makes me feel safer and I believe is a useful tool."

On the basis of a response by 10,112 members:

Strongly Agree 31%

Somewhat Agree 34%

Neither Agree or Disagree 19%

Somewhat Disagree 8%

Strongly Disagree 7%

Don’t Know 1%

(2) Police Review in its 22nd May 2009 edition reports on doctoral research undertaken by Alina Haines, University of Huddersfield in collaboration with West Yorkshire Police.

A postal survey with 1,500 responses and focus group sessions involving 30 people revealed that 89% were positive about the introduction of ANPR in Leeds. They said that the main benefits of ANPR were the improved identification and detection of offenders, in particular drivers without insurance.

There was a consensus from the people who took part in the focus groups that the potential misidentification and criminalisation of innocent people was one of the biggest disadvantages of ANPR, raising concerns about whether the technology alone is sufficient to ensure offender detection and protect the innocent.

Some members of public appeared to be worried about the use and security of personal data, with 58% of people saying the police service can be trusted to safeguard information gathered from cameras and use it properly.

The Chief Surveillance Commissioner has expressed concerns regarding ANPR in the past four years in his annual reports to the Prime Minister and to Scottish Ministers [9] . The 2008/9 report makes one, related reference to ANPR. ‘If the visual recording of car drivers is conducted in a manner that is covert and where there is no intent to stop the vehicle immediately, it may be necessary to consider an authorisation for directed surveillance. The intention to retain recordings of individuals for potential later use is deemed by Commissioners to be an invasion of their privacy. Although a human right is not absolute, it is equally important that public authorities do not consider that the ends always justify the means.’

Privacy International have lodged an official complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) referring to the possibility of all ANPR captured by the National ANPR Database Centre (NADC) being held for five years [10] . In July 2009, ACPO and the NPIA (National Policing Improvement Agency) responded jointly to the ICO proposing a two year maximum retention period.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust’s study titled Database State – published in March 2009 – reports on research undertaken by the Foundation for Information Policy Research which ‘provides the most comprehensive map of Britain’s database state currently available. Of the 46 databases assessed in the report only six were given the green light.

That is, only six are found to have a proper legal basis for any privacy intrusions and are proportionate and necessary in a democratic society. Nearly twice as many are almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law (red light) and should be scrapped or substantially redesigned, whilst the remaining 29 databases have significant problems and should be subject to an independent review (amber light).

More specifically:

National ANPR Data Centre – rated as amber – primarily on the basis that there is an absence of evidence that the resulting privacy intrusion brings real crime-reduction gains. (Note – some evidence is provided on page 12 of this paper).

DVLA – rated as amber – until the governance and access problems are honestly tackled

CCTV – rated as amber – until evidence in real crime-reduction supports the considerable investment’ [11] .

The European Secure Vehicle Alliance (ESVA) is an associate parliamentary group dedicated to the reduction of vehicle related crime and disorder. Since the publication of an ACPO 14-point vehicle crime reduction plan in 1994, it has taken an active interest in one element of the plan – namely the development of a significantly enhanced method of manufacture and distribution of vehicle number plates.

Sweden has operated for over 30 years with one single manufacturer and distributor of number plates whereas currently the UK has approximately 40,000 suppliers. In addition, the advent of roads pricing regimes such as the London congestion charge and high cost of fuel has resulted in significant increases in thefts of number plates – estimated to be in excess of 100,000 per annum.

The Department for Transport has established a working party to consider issues associated with vehicle number plates and together with its related agencies has a great interest in enhancing vehicles user compliance. Significant effort is undertaken to ensure the accuracy of the vehicle and driver databases and ESVA considers that the most critical vehicle identifier – namely the number plate – should be afforded a comparable system to ensure its integrity and compliance. From a national ANPR database perspective reading 10 million vehicle movements a day, every possible step should be taken to eliminate the likelihood of spurious reads.


CCTV has dominated legislative thinking to date and it is most encouraging to note the specific references to ANPR in the Home Office’s consultation document on RIPA. Furthermore, the Information Commissioner’s Office has focused on CCTV in offering guidance whilst issues associated with ANPR have been registered by the Chief Surveillance Commissioner.

The Department for Transport are also a key governmental stakeholder so a future, suitable legislative framework requires inputs from the two ‘information commissioners’ as identified in the House of Lords committee’s report and two government departments.

The experience gained by the local road safety camera partnerships involving both central government departments together with local authorities and police could well serve as an useful starting point.

The Chief Surveillance Commissioner in his most recent report [12] also refers to the importance of training to ensure appropriate understanding and implementation of directed surveillance exercises. Meanwhile, the Home Office RIPA consultation seeks to explore what prior approvals are required for ANPR related investigations.

Furthermore, it would be useful to address countermeasures being taken by non-compliant motorists to overcome road camera based systems.

So-called ‘Hoodies’ may not simply have been a response to the ubiquity of town centre CCTV systems but steps should be taken to minimise the emergence of the equivalent amongst road users [13] . For example – vehicles with number plates intending to mislead cameras and perhaps also (illegal) heavily tinted vehicle glazing.


ANPR embraces an extremely wide policing spectrum from targeting criminals (including terrorists) through their use of the road to tackling local neighbourhood concerns associated with non-compliant motoring, for example, the use of ‘local pool’ vehicles that are driven with no tax or insurance.

Camera technology is constantly improving and is now capable of use in both day and night and reads the number plate but also possibly captures vehicle make, model and colour, and also driver and passenger images.

Vehicle related data is capable of being analysed more effectively but effort is always required to improve the quality of the vehicle data itself – as highlighted by ESVA in Section 5.

Data sources currently employed by the police include:

- Police National Computer (PNC), Local and Neighbouring Force Databases

- MIDAS (Motor Insurance) Database

- Three DVLA Databases; known vehicles with no registered keeper, vehicle with no valid road tax, and issued vehicle registration marks.

Success in maximising ANPR’s potential will rely on building public confidence in its usage which in turn relies on ensuring that ANPR generated data is used appropriately and that the police actually make good use of the intelligence provided.

As experience of ANPR has evolved, three policing styles can be identified:

Response Policing – early usage relied on road side cameras and response teams capturing vehicle data and responding immediately as they judged appropriate to generated hits. This policing style will need to evolve to take advantage of the intelligence provided to the central command and control centres in constabularies from the National ANPR Data Centre (NADC).

Investigative Policing – the potential for ANPR historical data to assist in a great variety of investigations at all levels will become clearer as the national database becomes more populated and recognised as a valuable resource.

Proactive Policing – Whilst some investigations will require a RIPA authorisation when tracking the movements of a specific vehicle/driver – other applications may be more general and be intelligence led investigations aiming to spot vehicles thought to be associated with burglary for example.

ANPR has played a valuable role in investigating terrorist attacks and other successes include:

(a) The evaluation of the ACPO Project Laser Pilots (mainstreaming the use of ANPR in 2006/7) showed that the use of ANPR by vehicle response teams and other staff resulted in:

- the arrest of 20,592 individuals with around five percent of these designated as prolific or priority offenders (and others mainly for drugs offences, vehicle crime and disqualified driving)

- the identification of 52,037 vehicle-related document offences (mainly no road tax)

- the seizure of 41,268 vehicles for document offences (mainly no insurance)

- the identification and recovery of 2,021 stolen vehicles

(b) The Motor Insurers’ Bureau reported that the level of claims made as a result of accidents involving uninsured drivers fell by 5.8% in 2007, and by almost 10% since 2006. In addition, they report they report that the police have used the Motor Insurers Database data to remove over 200,000 uninsured vehicles in 2006 and 2007 from our roads of which 40% are disposed or crushed [14] .

(c) The latest Department for Transport study reports that the overall rate of unlicensed vehicles in Great Britain was estimated to be 0.7% in 2008 and represented a drop from an estimated 1.1% in 2007. Strategies to establish a continuous licensing approach will have also made a significant impact.

An appendix to their report refers to the effect and treatment of misread registration marks as ANPR technology formed the basis for the research study. The overall rate of misreads for ANPR-based sightings within the survey can be estimated at between 1.1% and 2.9% [15] .

It will be vital to continue seeking out and celebrating these successes to build ANPR’s reputation both within the police service and with the public.

It is inevitable that there will be instances where vehicle stops generated as a result of ANPR data will prove to be inappropriate and such instances must be more than outweighed by its success.

ESVA is an associate parliamentary group, established in 1992, with the aim of reducing vehicle related crime and disorder.


[2] Coaffee, Jon (2004) ‘Rings of Steel, Rings of Concrete and Rings of Confidence: Designing out

[2] Terrorism in Central London pre- and post September 11 th ’, International Journal of Urban and

[2] Regional Research, Vol 28 Number 1 2004

[3] PA Consulting – Police Standards Unit – Evaluation of ANPR 2006/7 April 2007

[4] ACPO ANPR National Media Handling Strategy 2009

[5] Review of EU Data Protection Directive Summary – prepared for the Information Commissioner’s

[5] Office – Rand Europe – Conference Declaration – May 2009









[13] London.html (Daily Telegraph – 8th April 2008 )

[14] ( 08/01/08 )