A little while ago, I said that if the Irish Times wasn’t going to ask follow up questions on the announced-over-Christmas plan to bring in an Automatic Number Plate Recognition system for use by the Gardai, then tiresome obsessives would have to do it for them.
Sure enough, here are the questions put down by the Labour Party on the topic, along with the Minister’s answer.
20. Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of the proposed new automatic number plate recognition system reported in a newspaper (details supplied) of 31 December 2005;
the consultations which will be carried out before a decision will be made on its introduction or if a decision has already been made;
the consultations which were carried out before the decision was taken;
if the Data Protection Commissioner has been consulted on this plan; if not, the reason for such a failure to consult;
if there have been discussions within either his Department or the Garda Síochána to connect this system to closed circuit televisions other than those in police vehicles;
if it has been proposed, discussed or considered to have the time and location details of all number plates recognised by the system stored in a database;
if it has been so proposed, discussed or considered; the length of time it has been discussed, proposed or considered that these details should be retained;
if the system as currently proposed will include an audit trail recording which looked up which number plate and when;
if the system as currently proposed is subject to independent auditing on a systematic and regular basis;
his views on whether the system as currently proposed will be in contravention with the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in its Report on Privacy, Surveillance and the Interception of Communication; if so, the reason he believes this is necessary; if not, the reason for same;
if he proposes bringing enabling legislation before the Houses of the Oireachtas to ground this project in law and allow for a full debate on its cost, resource and privacy implications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3498/06]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): I am informed by the Garda authorities that they are currently carrying out an impact assessment in respect of the use of an automatic number plate recognition system by the Garda Síochána. This assessment includes the nature of the impact on current information technology systems within the force. I understand that a number of police services in Europe have already introduced automatic number plate recognition systems as an enhancement to basic in-car camera systems.
I can assure the Deputy that all relevant legislation, including data protection legislation, will be complied with in the event of a decision being made to acquire any such system.
I am further informed that consideration is not being given to connecting any such system to closed circuit television in non-police vehicles, nor has there been any consideration of whether to have the time and location details of all number plates recognised by the system stored in a database. It is envisaged that any such system would include an electronic audit trail recording the specific number plates identified through the system.
As part of their consideration of whether to procure such a system, I am informed by the Garda authorities that they will also consider the question of consultation with a range of interested parties and how such consultations would take place. Any proposal to procure such a system, when actually made by the Garda authorities, will be considered by my Department.
Simon’s notes: The Minister doesn’t quite answer what he was asked here. “consideration is not being given to connecting any such system to closed circuit television in non-police vehicles” leaves room for consideration to have been given to connecting it to CCTV systems that aren’t in vehicles i.e almost all of them.
The Minister has said that “he has been informed” that no consideration has been given to whether to have all number plates recognised by the system logged for their time and date. I think this is the primary question surrounding this scheme, and ought to be the main focus of further inquiries.
As the Garda authorities are now considering having a process of consultation (note the lack of any commitment this warm sounding phrase actually contains) with a range of interested parties (possibly, until now, all of the buy-my-lubberly-ANPR-system kind) I think that this would seem like an excellent moment for Digital Rights Ireland to get in contact with the Gardai to alert them that they are also looking to help them with their weighty considerations.
Update: I see that DRI have come back with a fuller analysis of the Minister’s answer, incorporating some of the points I made above. They also say that they have written to the Gardai, seeking to be involved in consultations, and to the Data Protection Commissioner. They’re also going to pursue the matter further by writing to the Minister directly regarding his ignoring the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations.