Privacy concerns on speed cameras
Karen Dearne | September 23, 2008
CRIMTRAC's planned automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system could become a mass surveillance system, taking as many as 70 million photos of cars and drivers every day across a vast network of roadside cameras.
State and federal police forces want full-frontal images of vehicles, including the driver and front passenger, that are clear enough for identification purposes and usable as evidence in court.
"All vehicles passing through a fixed or mobile ANPR camera will have the data recorded and available for interrogation," CrimTrac told the Queensland TravelSafe inquiry into the use of ANPR for road safety.
"Existing camera applications, such as Safe-T-Cam, red light and speed cameras could be upgraded where necessary to provide constant live streaming to a central database.
"National connectivity would be achieved through secure digital networks for fixed cameras. Law enforcement agencies would also use mobile units."
David Vaile, executive director of the University of NSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, warned that the ANPR "could become the next Access Card".
"As a public surveillance system that could be linked to facial recognition, this has enough technology behind it to impinge on everybody's daily life," Mr Vaile said.
"CrimTrac has told us there will be 5000 cameras around the country, overwhelmingly in populated areas, taking some 70 million photos every day.
"There'll be maybe 1000 cameras in downtown Sydney, close to that number in Melbourne, perhaps 100 or so in Brisbane.
"If you use the main roads, you're likely to be snapped several times a day, and all those photos and any related data will be held by CrimTrac for up to five years."
Mr Vaile said it was false to represent the proposal as number plate recognition: "It's a photograph-all-drivers system."
At present, there are an estimated 300 fixed ANPR cameras and 100 mobile units in Australia.
CrimTrac is due to hand a $2.2 million scoping study for an integrated ANPR to the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, and the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management in November.
According to a privacy consultation paper issued in June, all ANPR data collected would be made available to participating agencies in real time, and retained for five years for future investigations.
The national system would consist of "sightings data from all cameras in all jurisdictions of all vehicles that pass the camera points".
CrimTrac proposes siting fixed cameras at state border crossings, on main roads, in city centres and around infrastructure such as ports.
CrimTrac ANPR program manager Darren Booy said road transport, police and national security agencies had agreed images were needed for certain vehicle sightings.
"At times, police might not know that a vehicle is stolen or wanted in connection with a crime such as armed robbery until some time after the event," he said.
"Therefore, there's a requirement to capture all vehicle sightings and make those images available for analysis and data matching either immediately or at a later time."
Mr Booy said no decision had been made on the period for which images would be kept.
Images would be retained in cases where a vehicle was on a hot list of stolen or unregistered cars, or in cases involving unlicensed drivers or people wanted by police.
"Police and road authorities are already using ANPR in Australia, albeit on a small scale," Mr Booy said.
"Its use is growing, and the technology offers wide benefits in the spheres of road safety, criminal investigation and national security.
"We do see opportunities to upgrade existing systems into a high-quality infrastructure, and provide national capabilities at a lower overall cost."
Mr Booy said CrimTrac had looked at concerns on the accuracy and reliability of ANPR technology.
"It's important to recognise that existing local systems are quite disparate, with different standards not only in relation to data accuracy, but also the management of hot lists," he said.
"Drawing on experiences in Britain, where there is blanket ANPR surveillance, we are proposing a framework that overcomes a lot of those issues."
Should the state and federal ministers agree on a nationwide system, planning and building it would take a number of years to complete, Mr Booy said.
Meanwhile, the Queensland Government's TravelSafe report into ANPR suggests there are limited road safety benefits compared with the costs involved.
A VicRoads and Victoria Police trial had encountered problems with the accuracy and timeliness of information.
"There may be missing or incomplete fields in data sets, which means the software may flag a vehicle that is legitimately registered," VicRoads chief executive Gary Liddle said.
"Delayed payments could also mean a vehicle identified as unregistered is incorrectly flagged by the system."
The TravelSafe committee recommended that data relating to vehicles not found to be committing an offence should be "cleansed nightly to minimise the possibility of security breaches".