People are aware of the benefits of Automatic Number Plate Reader technology (ANPR) and how it is used by the police to catch uninsured drivers, criminals whose license plates are on record and people who have cloned license plates from cars. But what often gets overlooked are the problems with ANPR. This article, however, is all about those problems.
The first issue, which has only started emerging, as ANPR technology has become more and more widespread, is that the equipment can bring up false positives. This is caused by the cameras misreading the registration number rather than the plate being read correctly but is misidentified as not having insurance. The most common occurrences of this are when the police perform roadside checks and scan all of the cars that drive past with a portable device. The cars which are identified as uninsured or criminal are then pulled over and the drivers are questioned.
The false positives can arise when the officer operating the camera does not have a good view of the plates as they pass, which can lead to the device identifying some plates incorrectly, for example, reading an “8” as a “B” or not being able to view the whole plate. When this happens, somebody who does have their car fully insured may be pulled over and be asked to prove this. There have been more and more reports of this happening and each time it does, the police have to phone up the insurance companies to check whether the car they have pulled over is insured or not. The vast majority of the time they are, and this therefore wastes the officer’s time, the driver’s time, and the time of the insurance company.
The second problem is with number plate cloning. If a criminal copies your registration number and attaches it to another vehicle and then commits a crime with that vehicle, you may find yourself being stopped by the police for a crime that you didn’t commit. Even if the car the criminal was driving is completely different in every way to the one you are driving, ANPR will identify your car as a car that requires to be pulled over.
The third problem and perhaps the most controversial, is whether ANPR infringes on people’s privacy too much. With some cities and counties wanting to cover all their borders with ANPR cameras, all that would need to happen is for a centralised database to be created, that records where and when number plates have been seen, and anybody who has access to this, could potentially chart all the trips an individual has made across the country.
Whether the benefits of ANPR outweigh these problems, is something that each individual must make their own mind up about, but the authorities seem to think that the benefits do outweigh these problems.