Licence Plate Recognition -1 Million Mistakes a Day!


Concerns over the possible misreading of hundreds of thousands of vehicle licence plates each day have led to calls for statutory regulation of the UK’s automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system.

Over 1 Million Mistakes Per Day!

The ANPR system uses 9,000 ANPR cameras, to record and store up to 30 million vehicle records each year. Unfortunately, it is also reported to be recording a staggering (up to) 1.2 million false readings of number plates every day! That’s the equivalent to over 400 million incorrect readings each year!

The implication is that innocent motorists may be wrongly accused and punished for a variety of motoring offences, and that real offenders may be escaping punishment. This has led to calls for statutory regulation of the camera system.

Police In the Dark

Not only does The National ANPR Data Centre (NADC) accept data from all police ANPR systems, without carrying out any checks on the effectiveness of those systems, but it is also believed that Police currently have no meaningful data on the accuracy of ANPR, or on the contribution surveillance cameras make to tackling crime.

Also Cyber Attack Risk

Not only is it unclear what contribution the camera system could be making to cutting crime, but it has also been revealed that some systems could be at risk from cyber attack, thereby possibly allowing data to be changed, making it impossible to use as evidence anyway.

A recent example in the U.S. left over half of the surveillance cameras covering the city of Washington’s public spaces unable to record footage for three days, until experts were able to remove ransomware from the recording devices.

Facial Recognition Camera Concerns

There are growing concerns too, particularly where data protection and privacy are concerned, about the increased use of facial recognition cameras to identify suspects by matching camera images against 19 million custody images held by police. For example, Leicestershire Constabulary faced criticism after using automatic facial recognition at the Download concert in 2015, in Donnington Park, and the Metropolitan Police used similar technology during last year’s Notting Hill Carnival to match images of people with photographs stored on its Electronic Wanted and Missing Systems (EWMS).

Surveillance Camera Commissioner Says…

The England and Wales Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Tony Porter, has said that he is yet to be convinced that an assertion that national ANPR meets performance standards holds water.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although there may be valid concerns about inaccuracies in the ANPR system and the impact these could have on businesses and individuals, other surveillance cameras can play an important role for business security monitoring systems. Used responsibly and only for the intended purpose, they can add value, and provide a low cost, cost saving, and vital way to maintain security.

Camera surveillance generally is now an almost unnoticed part of daily life in what, according to Big Brother Watch, is now the most surveilled western democracy, where there is now an estimated 6 million+ surveillance cameras. The worry among some of those being watched is that privacy and security are at risk, the fact that we are being watched constantly by unknown parties (and our images potentially stored and shared) is sinister, mistakes can be made with the responsibility being placed on the victim to clear their name and prove inaccuracy, regulations are not adequate, and that many cameras are operated by businesses, and quasi-government organisations.

For many people, an argument that ‘if you’re doing nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to worry about’ is not a valid argument because it simply gives a green light to the further erosion of rights without considering the consequences, and occasionally we all do something wrong (but perhaps not intentionally) which is more likely to be caught on camera than ever before, and the punishment may not feel as though it fits the crime with the inflexibility of some camera-based systems and their operators.

The introduction of GDPR will also have implications for what images from surveillance cameras are stored, where and how securely they are stored. For example, GDPR could apply to stored facial images of individuals.

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