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.


  1. if it will be linked to the PULSE System, then we have nothing to worry about, since none of the Gardaí are using the system.

  2. The Gardai should NOT be allowed use automatic licence plate recognition because it breaches the right to privacy.

    I know someone (who is a cop) and he secretly showed me the Garda traffic records on their pulse system of one particular case. The pulse keeps a record on each time a driver is checked. Their driver number is the reference mainly used but their surname can also be used to look at his/her record.

  3. Anonymous12 July, 2010

    Perhaps one should consider security cameras that record similar data, traffic monitoring cameras or even those on toll roads/bridges. What safeguards are in place to protect privacy in these systems? At least the Gardai are accountable to the public and the Courts. Also by using your vehicle in a public place would I be incorrect in saying that your 'right to privacy' and confidentiality of your vehicles data is compromised by yourself, and you are therefore allowing your data to be open to anyone to record details. As regards PULSE, it is a pretty rubbish system, but it does record all data viewings and updates and the identities of those carrying out those viewings. So accountability and traceability of misuse does not present an issue.