Under certain circumstances, the police want to be able to use photos of recognizable drivers or co-drivers in criminal investigations. These are photos taken by special ANPR cameras – Automated Number Plate Recognition – be made above Dutch highways and with which license plates are automatically recognized.
Also read the big story with this news item: Let’s see who the driver is. Handy, right?
That is what Sjoerd Top, sector head of the infrastructure service at the National Unit, says in an interview with NRC.
Recognizing people in photos is now not allowed. The cameras are intended for recognizing license plates, the legislator decided in 2019 when the powers of the police regarding the ANPR photos were expanded. Thanks to this law, the police can record all passing license plates – previously only ‘suspicious’ license plates were allowed to be stored in advance.
To limit the invasion of privacy, the collection of license plates cannot simply be consulted. The data must be destroyed after 28 days and recognizable persons must be made unrecognizable by ‘blurring’ them before the police can use the images in the investigation.
The Public Prosecution Service has previously requested access to the unblurred photos several times, according to a report from the Scientific Research and Documentation Center (WODC). The unblurred photo was actually provided twice before the Public Prosecution Service stopped requesting the unblurred originals.
Thousands of innocent civilians
Top wants the police to be able to see the photos without blurring if there are serious suspicions. According to him, this prevents other privacy violations. Now often other data – for example telecom data from cell towers – must be used to ‘link’ a suspect to the photographed car. “I don’t have to request the telecom data from those thousands of innocent citizens because the photo simply shows who was behind the wheel.” Top: “The legislator has built in all kinds of safeguards to ensure that privacy is violated as little as possible, but on some points the opposite is happening.”
Only in the case of ‘serious crimes, such as an armed robbery, murder or manslaughter or a fatal collision in which a suspect has continued to drive’, Top would like to be able to recognize people in photos. Possibly, an examining magistrate must review such requests and not the Public Prosecution Service, as is currently the case. “The conditions are up to the legislator.”
Top calls the extra possibilities of the ANPR system valuable, but also notes that use is labour-intensive
Because the ANPR system contains a lot of personal data, the law from 2019 is valid for three years, the cabinet determined. A second report from the WODC is expected in September, which will also answer the question of how effective the new authority is. It is then decided how to proceed with the automatic number plate registration.
Top finds the extra possibilities of the ANPR system valuable, but also notes that use is labour-intensive. In addition to blurring, every license plate that was automatically captured must also be checked manually on the basis of the photo taken. Only then may the ANPR data be used.
Investments that simplify the use of the system, such as an extra automatic check or the automatic blurring of the photos, have not yet been made pending evaluation of the law. “Otherwise we will have invested a lot of money in a system that we have to stop on January 1, 2022.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of August 31, 2021