POLICE will use GPS technology to capture the location of more than a million vehicles on Queensland roads at any one time – and will use it to charge criminals.
The geographic location of about 25,000 registration number plates are being stored by police each week under a trial that has alarmed civil libertarians.
The move is part of the broadened Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) trial, which uses global position systems and cameras fitted in police vehicles.
It means that if a motorist drives past a police car, their position is recorded. It will be stored for a year and one day. The trial will end in June 2014.
Transport Minister Scott Emerson said he believed most drivers would be comfortable with police using their number plates to track them and contact them if it means they can help solve a crime.
“The reality is that most people are very keen to help out where they can in terms of crimes,” Mr Emerson said.
“We are talking here about using that information to look for witnesses to crimes.
“Not many people would be concerned about them being contacted using their information to help deal with a crime when they occur.”
While police are using the information to bust unregistered vehicles, sources admit it could also be used to determine who was nearby when certain crimes were committed.
“If a request is made by a police officer for a search of the ANPR database to be conducted and the request is substantiated and approved by a commissioned officer as supporting an investigation or prosecution of a criminal offence, the recorded ANPR information can be lawfully used by the QPS,” police said in a statement to The Courier-Mail.
“The Queensland Police Service has strict accountability measures in place to govern the use of automatic numberplate recognition technology for broader law enforcement.”
Last week The Courier-Mail revealed police were tracing the everyday movements of thousands of Queenslanders by routinely accessing detailed phone records.
Even the mobile phone records of their own officers were being pulled, to determine if they had thrown sickies, had sex with police cadets at the academies or where they were if their boss was suspicious about their location on duty.
YOUR SAY: Should police use number plates to track people? Comment below
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Andrew Sinclair said the trial and what could be done with the information was concerning.
Mr Sinclair said the trial involved the collection of personal information, which violated the right to privacy and the principles embodied in the Privacy Act.
He said history showed that when a data collection device was created it was not long before it was turned to other purposes.
“At least there is an act governing the telcos (when police ask for some information) but there’s nothing governing how they collect and use the number plates,” Mr Sinclair said.
“And I’ll bet it ends up getting used for all sorts of things. Whether an officer’s wife is found in a part of town she’s not expected to be, was so and so really having a sickie etc.”
Queensland’s acting Privacy Commissioner Lemm Ex said his office had been apprised of the potential use of APNRs in Queensland.
“Number plates are not in themselves personal information. They become personal information if a link can be made between the number and the owner of the registered vehicle,” Mr Ex said. “Accordingly, the significant factor is not the capture of number plates but rather their recognition – the linking with an individual.
“If that linking is conducted for a law enforcement activities, no privacy issues arise with it.
“There is no provision in the Information Privacy Act for agencies to dispose of personal information when they no longer have a use for it, and only a limited obligation to de-identify health information.”