Sunday, September 15, 2013

Automatic Number Plate Recognition erodes civil liberties

Governments are pushing harder and harder in their abuse of our personal information.  From blanket coverage with CCTV, to the federal attempt last year to introduce mandatory data retention, the Government is obsessed with infringing on our civil liberties.

The increasing use of number plate recognition technology by police opens a Pandora's box for abuse of power, mistakes and illegal disclosure.  In a society that values civil liberties, this is absolutely unacceptable.

As reported recently in The Courier-Mail, Queensland police are trialling Automatic Number Plate Recognition, recording about 25,000 registration plates a week.

Under ANPR, police use a sophisticated camera system mounted on patrol cars and GPS to automatically record your number plate and the location of your car.

Read on its own, this may not seem like a major intrusion into your personal freedoms.  Read into it a little deeper and the situation dramatically changes.

By recording your number plate at a certain time and location, police compile an extraordinary amount of data about you.  This includes your name, address, contact details, driving history and licence status.

And that's just the beginning.  Storing data regarding when and where you were driving allows police to readily identify many key aspects of your life.

If an individual has a detailed understanding of your movements, they can know if you regularly go to a certain pub or gym, who you visit in your spare time, when you've gone to the doctor or hospital, or even which groups or organisations you associate with.

Innocent people are increasingly being treated with suspicion due to the tiny chance that some offence may be committed.  This in itself represents a dramatic reversal of the onus of proof, a central principle that the law is designed to protect.

Last year alone, various government agencies were accessing the personal information of individuals at a rate of 800 times a day.

Number plate recognition technology is not new.  The technology has been around for decades.  Anyone who has used a toll road has been exposed to it.

It is also useful in ensuring a vehicle's registration is valid — the precise point of number plates in the first place.

However, what is not valid is exploiting the technology for activities which curtail our basic rights.

In Britain, it is estimated that 50 million cars are scanned each day using the technology.  That's an extraordinary amount of surveillance.

Combine that with the British Government's obsession with CCTV cameras and privacy is unacceptably restricted.

While the ANPR trial runs for nine months, Queensland police will store all of the data collected for more than a year.

The public should be uncomfortable police could be storing a record of everyone's movements.

Given police are unlikely to abandon any technology that gives them extra information, the logical next step is to adopt it and put it on every patrol car in the state, or even the country.

Everyone who values their privacy is right to be concerned about the uptake of this technology.  Especially when Acting Privacy Commissioner Lemm Ex states:  ''There is no provision in the Information Privacy Act for agencies to dispose of personal information when they no longer have use for it.''

The spread of this technology raises serious questions about what the next tool for government intrusion could be.

If this technology becomes the norm, government agencies will only attempt to open the privacy barriers further and further.

Our civil liberties are too important to allow these invasions of our personal rights to continue.

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