The computer will be installed in Garda Traffic Corps vehicles and is due to be introduced in the coming months, The Irish Times has learned.This scheme raises many questions. Will the Gardaí have access to the name and address of every motorist passing by? (In the US, where systems like this have been in place for some time, it's common for police to look up the details of an attractive woman in a passing car - known as "running a plate for a date".)
The computer and camera system will allow for the instant reading and analysis of registration plates of all traffic passing a Garda car. The system will be linked to the Garda's Pulse computer database.
It means any vehicles which are not taxed or insured or which have been reported stolen will trigger a warning notice on an in-car computer screen.
A warning will also be triggered for cars which have not passed the National Car Test (NCT) or which have any other outstanding infringement.
This will allow gardaí to give chase and issue a fine to the motorist. It will also allow gardaí to instantly identify repeat offenders who have ignored previous fines and other sanctions and to put them off the road.
Currently, if gardaí want to check on a vehicle they must call their local station via in-car radio and ask a colleague to manually check the registration on the Pulse system. This is time-consuming and means only a small number of checks can be carried out.
Under the new system, 50 Garda Traffic Corps vehicles will be fitted with two small in-car cameras. One camera will face to the front of the vehicle and the other to the rear.
The two cameras will allow for instant analysis of registration plates of all vehicles passing in both directions, whether a Garda vehicle is moving or parked by the roadside.
Given that the vast majority of motorists scanned will be entirely innocent, what happens to their data? Will it be retained? If so, for how long? What privacy safeguards have been built into the system? Has legal advice been taken on the data protection issues of ANPR? Will this be a precursor to a much wider system?
ANPR has already been controversial in other countries - notably England - so there is no excuse if it turns out that the Gardai and/or the Department of Justice have failed to consider these issues.