Saturday, December 31, 2005

Garda Traffic Surveillance - Privacy Implications for Motorists?

The Irish Times reports that the police are proposing to bring Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to Ireland:
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.

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.
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".)

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.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Last Chance to Fight EU Data Retention

Next Tuesday, the 13th of December, the European Parliament will vote on a Data Retention Directive. This proposes to extend data retention to the Internet, and will result in your ISPs logging every email you send, every web page you visit, and everything else you do online and storing that information for several years.

We urge you to email, fax or phone your MEPs as soon as possible to express your opposition to this measure, which will introduce mass surveillance of every man, woman and child in the EU.

As to what you should say, it is best if that comes directly from what you consider important. However, Privacy International and EDRI have adopted a position (which DRI has endorsed) setting out five key criticisms of the Directive. Feel free to copy and paste these if you wish.
1. This Directive invades the privacy of all Europeans. The Directive calls for the indiscriminate collection and retention of data on a wide range of Europeans’ activities. Never has a policy been introduced that mandates the mass storage of information for the mere eventuality that it may be of interest to the State at some point in the future.

2. The proposed Directive is illegal. It contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights by proposing the indiscriminate and disproportionate recording of sensitive personal information. Political, legal, medical, religious and press communications would be logged, exposing such information to use and abuse.

3. The Directive threatens consumer confidence. More than 58,000 Europeans have already signed a petition opposing the Directive. A German poll revealed that 78% of citizens were opposed to a retention policy. The Directive will have a chilling effect on communications activity as consumers may avoid participating in entirely legal transactions for fear that this will be logged for years.

4. The Directive burdens EU industry and harms global competitiveness. Retention of all this data creates additional costs of hundreds of millions of Euros every year. These burdens are placed on EU industry alone. The U.S., Canada and the Council of Europe have already rejected retention.

5. The Directive requires more invasive laws. Once adopted, this Directive will prove not to be the ultimate solution against serious crimes. There will be calls for additional draconian measures including:
* the prior identification of all those who communicate, thus requiring ID cards at cybercafes, public telephone booths, wireless hotspots, and identification of all pre-paid clients;
* the banning of all international communications services such as webmail (e.g. Hotmail and Gmail) and blocking the use of non-EU internet service providers and advanced corporate services.

Helpfully, we in Ireland are in a unique position to lobby our MEPs - because the Government has already stated it is so opposed to this particular draft that they will bring a case to the European Court of Justice to block it if the European Parliament approves it. Thus even MEPs from the Government Parties have no reason to support the proposed text in Tuesday’s vote.

It is not too late to stop this law: please join us by contacting your MEPs to say no to a surveillance society.

[Cross-posted from Digital Rights Ireland.]