Surveillance watchdog questions value of green plates


The official surveillance camera watchdog has criticised Government proposals to introduce green number plates for ultra-low emission vehicles as a gimmick that could compromise the wider use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

The independent advisory group (IAG) on the use of ANPR technology, which would be used to monitor the use of green number plates, pointed out ANPR technology currently lacks a ‘statutory footing’ and extending its use in this way could raise wider privacy concerns about the technology.

‘The ANPR IAG raised the issue of a lack of statutory footing for ANPR and hence the problems caused by the extension to its role and function,’ it said.

The IAG continued: ‘The view of the ANPR IAG is that the green number plate is an unqualified extension to the role of ANPR. Where is the evidence to prove that the extension to the ANPR function is justified?

'Limited evidence was presented that car drivers want green number plates or that it is for the benefit of society. Therefore, the legality was questioned. Clean air is fully recognised as being paramount. The group felt there was limited evidence that this scheme would significantly contribute towards that.

‘There is a strong view from the IAG that the extension of the role of ANPR for such a high-value scheme is beyond the initial purpose of ANPR and further stretches its legitimacy.’

Publicity has suggested that the number plates would been green

The IAG is chaired by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and comprises specialist external interests as well as the police, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Home Office.

The Department for Transport (DfT) consultation on the proposal suggests that green plates could help with local initiatives such as access to bus or low emission vehicle lanes but recognises that compliance would be enforced by ANPR - which looks at the number not the colour on the plate.

DfT officials suggest that the preferred design would be a small green area at one end of the plate: ‘This is due to the risks to Automatic Number Plate Recognition Cameras (ANPR) from other designs (e.g. a full green background).

The Commissioner’s response to the consultation, encompassing the views of the IAG, states: ‘The Commissioner is supportive of the Government’s policy of reducing emissions and encouraging road users to shift to cleaner vehicles [however] the Commissioner’s view is that whichever green number plate design is chosen, it should have no impact on the National ANPR service (NAS).

The Government's preferred design is a green area at one end of the plate

The IAG also raised concerns that the move it will encourage cloned number plates, warning: ‘The process of getting green number plates should therefore be tightly controlled.’

The response adds: ‘Furthermore, incentives for green plates raise questions around the proportionality of the scheme and who gets access to the data.’

A DfT spokesperson said: 'Green number plates are a positive and exciting way to raise awareness and support the uptake of electric vehicles on our roads.

'The public consultation has now closed and we are analysing responses. We will publish our consultation response in due course.'

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