Follow up on FOI request Re: ANPR cameras

I recently sent an FOI request to Lancashire Police asking for the number and location of all ANPR cameras in their area.
This was after Big Brother Watch reported on a similar request to Devon and Cornwall Police which was refused on the grounds that releasing the information may put the public 'at risk'.

Apparently this refusal was overturned, by the Information Rights Tribunal. At the time of the posting it was going to appeal. I don't know what the outcome was but I have contacted BBW for further info now that my request has been answered.

They didn't refuse my request in it's entirety; they supplied the number of cameras but not their locations. This is the full text: The meat is in the first few paragraphs.

Dear    Mr Bucko,
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION APPLICATION REFERENCE NO: 3151/11

Thank you for your request for information received by Lancashire Constabulary on the 13th May 2011, which was as follows:-
Please provide numbers and locations of all ANPR cameras currently under the control of Lancashire Police.
Your request has now been considered and some of the information you are seeking can be found below:-

Lancashire Constabulary currently operates 33 fixed ANPR sites, with 67 cameras in use across these sites. In addition, there are a further six sites not owned or operated by the Constabulary in the Lancashire area which produce data which is monitored by the force.
There are currently plans in place to increase the number of fixed ANPR sites operated by the Constabulary to 55 by the end of 2011.
It is not possible to disclose the locations of each of these camera sites at this time. This is because the location of ANPR cameras is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by virtue of the listed exemptions Section 31(1)(a)(b)(c), Law Enforcement; and Section 24(1), National Security. This letter serves to act as a refusal notice for this aspect of your request, as per S.17(1) of the Act.
Sections 24 and 31 are prejudice based, qualified exemptions which means that the legislators have identified a requirement to evidence the harm (prejudice) that would be caused by disclosure as well as consider the public interest, both of which are detailed below.
Evidence of Harm:
Disclosing the location of ANPR cameras would undermine policing tactics and operations by highlighting to members of the criminal fraternity the areas of the road network where it would be ‘safe’ to travel, inasmuch as the likelihood of being apprehended is reduced.
The surveillance capabilities of the cameras would also be undermined if the locations of these cameras were published, as again potential criminals would know where they are, and could bypass / avoid them, or destroy them entirely. This would mean that the Force would be less able to detect and reduce crime on the roads.  It would also provide awareness to potential terrorists who may wish to target the United Kingdom, and want to travel using the road infrastructure.  If such an attack took place this would undoubtedly lead to individuals’ health and safety being put at risk or may even result in death.

Public Interest Test Considerations:
S.24 - Factors Favouring Disclosure:
The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and resources distributed within the area of policing.  Disclosure of the requested information would enable the general public to hold Lancashire Constabulary to account on the way in which ANPR technology is deployed.  Detailing locations could show the effectiveness of ANPR cameras in combating terrorist activities.  The information would also be likely to aid public debate on the level of surveillance in the UK.
S.24 - Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure:
Security measures are put in place to protect the community that we serve.  Disclosure would highlight to potential terrorists details of which locations would be monitored by ANPR, allowing them to avoid such routes and therefore subsequent detection.  Revealing specific locations would dramatically weaken the effective use of ANPR as a monitoring tool in the fight against terrorism on a local and national scale.
In the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed.  To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have a considerable negative impact on the force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.  The public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with the information that is released.
The usefulness of this data can be even more impactive when linked to other information gathered from various sources about terrorism.  The more information disclosed over time gives a more detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only the force area but also the country as a whole.  Disclosure would show how many points of entry into the area are not protected and therefore liable to exploitation.  Any incident that results from such a disclosure would by default affect national security.
S.31 - Factors Favouring Disclosure:
There is information within the public domain confirming that the police use ANPR in relation to the prevention and detection of terrorism, serious crime, volume crime and fatal and serious injury road traffic incidents.
Disclosure would enhance the public’s knowledge about how ANPR is used by the Constabulary and the specific nature of the technology.  There is a lot of contention over the use of ANPR as a system that is used to ‘spy’ and ‘monitor people’s activities’.   Disclosure may aid the public’s understanding of how ANPR operates and for what direct purpose, stopping any incorrect rumours or falsehoods that may already exist.
S.31 - Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure:
The release of this information would compromise any ongoing criminal investigations, or proceedings, which make use of the data produced by the cameras. In addition, the technology can be used in combating acts of terrorism and also in the prevention and detection of other crime and in the reduction of death and injury on the roads. Therefore, if the locations of the cameras were disclosed their capability to prevent such activity would be compromised.  Release of the information would mean that the ANPR's role in the prevention and detection of crime would be compromised. The safety of the public is of paramount importance to the policing purpose, and an increase in crime would place the public at risk of harm.
Balancing Test:
Disclosure of information that would have a serious negative impact on the security of the whole of the United Kingdom would not be beneficial.  Weakening the mechanisms used to monitor any type of criminal activity, and specifically terrorist activity would place the security of the country in an increased level of danger.  ANPR is one of many tools used to help maintain national security and is not outweighed by the fact that disclosure would make the general public better informed about the system and it’s use. 
Disclosure of this information may help to stop the misconceptions that ANPR is only used to ‘spy’ on individuals or to ensure compliance with bus lanes or similar, and could highlight the actual policing purpose and its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool.  However, as we have disclosed the number of camera sites and information about how they are used, it is not felt that disclosing their precise locations would significantly add to the public’s understanding of the use of ANPR.
Information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act is made public when released, and has an impact on all areas of the country, not just within the Lancashire Constabulary jurisdiction.   Disclosure of ANPR locations within this area would mean that any subsequent FOI request for other areas would be treated similarly. A series of disclosures for this information would mean that terrorists and criminals would be able to build up a picture of where such technology was deployed throughout the whole country.  Disclosure of such information at a national level would encourage those with criminal intent to relocate and intensify their activities to areas that are less well covered by ANPR as they would have a renewed level of confidence in evading detection. 
ANPR needs to be understood as a vital tool in safeguarding the security of the country and any disclosure that would impact on this must be of a greater importance to the public.  ANPR is an internationally recognised tool that can significantly reduce volume crime, increase detection rates, tackle cross-border crime and provide vital intelligence for use in counter terrorist and serious crime work.
Having considered all the factors at this moment in time it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for disclosure is not made out. 
By way of background, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) was set up to deny criminals the free use of the road network and thus interrupt their unlawful activities.  Each ANPR deployment will be for one or more specified and lawful purpose in accordance with the second principle of the Data Protection Act 1988 – ‘personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes’ – and will be justified under the National Intelligence Model which is intelligence driven.
If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request an internal review of our decision, you should write to the Data Protection and Information Officer, Corporate Support and Information Services – Information Compliance & Disclosure Section, Police Headquarters, Saunders Lane, Hutton, Preston PR4 5SB or alternatively send an email to xxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxx.xxx.xxxxxx.xx. Details of the Constabulary’s Freedom of Information Complaint Procedures can be found attached to this email.
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the Information Commissioner’s Office cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by Lancashire Constabulary. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely


Bryony Hopkinson
Freedom of Information Disclosure Officer


I am now preparing a follow up which I will publish here in due course.

3 Comments:

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