National Vehicle Tracking Database

From March 2006, Britain will be the first country in the world to monitor and record the movements of every vehicle on the road.

Executive Summary

A new national surveillance system will record the movements of every vehicle on the road for at least two years. A network of cameras will automatically read every passing vehicle registration plate and this information will be used to create a database of vehicle movements. Police and security services will be able to use this information to analyse the movements of every driver in the country for several years.

Thousands of existing CCTV cameras are being converted to read number plates using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology. These cameras will provide coverage 24/7 on all motorways and major roads as well as cities, towns, ports and petrol station forecourts.

A central database will be installed alongside the National Police Computer in London to store the details of 35 million number plate "reads" taken per day. The information recorded will include time, date and precise location. The camera sites will be monitored by global positioning satellites.

Subsequent developments after the initial launch of the scheme in March 2006 may include extending the storage period to five years and incorporating more cameras into the network, thus increasing the capacity of number plate "reads" per day from 35 million to 100 million.

In July 2007 it was announced that the police are to be given live access to London's congestion charge cameras - allowing them to track all vehicles entering and leaving the zone in real time. Despite the fact that under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, they still have to do so on a case by case basis, as Mass Surveillance using ANPR is illegal, according to the Surveillance Commissioners (who are all former High Court Judges).


The database is central to an operation to "deny criminals use of the road" orchestrated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). It will allow the police and security services to gather intelligence data on the movements of organised criminal gangs and terrorist suspects. Ministers have thus far sanctioned the spending of £24 million on equipment for the scheme and 50 local authorities have allowed the conversion of thousands of existing traffic cameras to read number plates automatically and transmit the information to the Hendon database via a secure police communications network.

Chief constables are also negotiating with the Highways Agency, supermarkets and petrol station owners to incorporate their CCTV cameras into the network.

As well as cross-checking number plates against stolen and suspect vehicles logged in the Police National Computer, the camera network will also be used to check that vehicles are lawfully licensed, insured and that their MOT test certificates are up to date.

Frank Whiteley, Chief Constable of Hertfordshire, is the chairman of the ACPO steering committee on ANPR.

Problems and Concerns

The primary concern of Civil Liberties groups is that the movements of millions of law-abiding people will be recorded and stored on the database for years, a concern that is acknowledged in the "E.C.H.R., Data Protection & RIPA Guidance Relating to the Police use of A.N.P.R." document produced by the ACPO National ANPR User Group.

As pointed out by Spy Blog, what ACPO's document does not clarify is who decides what the appropriate data retention period is or who will be responsible for ensuring that the data stored is not misused.

Other concerns:

  • ACPO's guidelines do not constitute a formal Code of Conduct and are, therefore, not enforcable by law.
  • That citing "national security" as a determinant in the use of information stored of the database could side-step the Human Rights Act, Data Protection Act, etc.
  • The general lack of publicity for the scheme and little, if any, public debate or Parliamentary scrutiny.

Chief Surveillance Commissioner Annual Report 2006 - 2007

"11.3 Improvements in technology continue to enhance the capability of those charged with the responsibility of tackling crime. But, as indicated in last year’s report, the speed of change often surpasses the limitations of current legislation. With regard to Automatic Number Plate Recognition, my position is the same as that of my predecessor and I adhere to the view that legislation is necessary to resolve some issues arising from enhanced technological capability."

Instances of Abuse of the ANPR database

  • The case of John Catt who was stopped by police in the City of London after it transpired that his car was flagged by ANPR cameras as he entered the city. His registration had been flagged as his car had been seen at political rallies at which he was in attendance - it was flagged despite the fact he had a clean criminal record and there were no allegations or evidence against him - he was apparently victimised for his political opinions[1]. He later sued police for this[2].




Online Articles


2008-09-16 - Kable - Police expand ANPR data powers
Summary: Privacy campaigners are fearful about a police database which will be used to monitor the movements of millions of motoristsA national network of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras will be able to 'read' and store 50m licence plates a day and store information for up to five years. An Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) ANPR strategy document, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, envisages the database will be used at all levels of policing. Senior officers had promised the data would be stored for two years. But responding to inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act, the Home Office has admitted the data is now being kept for five years. In four months' time, when a nationwide network of cameras is fully operational, the National ANPR Data Centre in Hendon, north London, will record up to 50m licence plates a day.
2008-09-15 - The Telegraph - Police will keep driving records for five years
Author: Sarah Knapton
Summary: Police plan to map all journeys made by drivers on major roads and store the data for five years. A national network of roadside cameras will be able to read 50 million number plates each day enabling officers to reconstruct the movements of motorists. But civil rights campaigners have questioned why the data needs to be kept for so long and want reassurances on who will be allowed to access the information.
2008-07-17 - kable - National road charging off the agenda
Summary: The government has pushed back a national road charging scheme to the middle of the next decade. The Department of Transport has said its planned £6bn spending on road improvements will be focused on the innovative use of existing main roads. A spokesperson said the delay to a national road charging scheme is due to issues that need to be ironed out, such as privacy concerns.
2008-06-12 - Kable - Government reveals ANPR port use
Summary: A procurement notice has provided details on the government's use of automatic numberplate recognition cameras at ports. A five year contract to maintain ANPR systems, worth between £2m and £5m, will start in November and will initially cover seven ports: Portsmouth, Plymouth, Harwich, Ramsgate, Hull, Poole and Dover Easter Dock. The work will update and enhance ANPR functionality, "to monitor and track vehicle movements to and from the UK", according to the notice in the Official Journal of the European Union on 10 June 2008. It adds that "a further 10-15 sites may be integrated into the HMRC ANPR estate," and other sites may be added.
2007-11-19 - Computerworld UK - Government policies threaten data privacy, warns information commissioner
Author: Tash Shifrin
Summary: Information commissioner Richard Thomas has listed a string of government policies that he feels threaten data protection rights. The data protection watchdog provided the list to the House of Lords constitution committee as part of its inquiry into the impact of surveillance and data collection. ... Thomas also warned over plans to share road-charging data with police and sections of the Serious Crimes Act that authorised public sector agencies to access information held on private company databases
2007-10-26 - The Register - plans more active-traffic motorway ANPR cams
Author: Lewis Page
Summary: The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that large parts of the UK motorway network will get new speed cameras. ... The new systems have to use Automatic Numberplate Recognition (ANPR) to work out a car's speed over a more substantial distance. ... But the largely unnoticed consequence is an almost certain extension of the government's ability to easily and cheaply carry out automated surveillance en masse.
2007-10-15 - Daily Mail - Labour 'does U-turn on national plan for road tolls'
Author: Ian Drury
Summary: Labour has been accused of performing a humiliating U-turn by scrapping plans for pay-as-you-drive road pricing. Ministers are set to shelve proposals to introduce nationwide road tolls which would see drivers billed up to £1.50 a mile. Campaigners were last night hailing the apparent climbdown as a victory for the 1.8 million motorists who signed a Downing Street petition opposing the idea.
2007-10-15 - Daily Telegraph - Labour to scrap national road pricing plans
Author: David Millward
Summary: Ministers are to perform a U-turn by shelving plans for a national road pricing scheme that would have cost motorists up to £1.30 a mile. The Government has bowed to the groundswell of opposition which saw 1.8 million people back a Downing Street petition and a campaign by The Daily Telegraph calling for the proposals to be ditched... One senior Government source said national road pricing had fallen down the list of priorities – "it has been back burnered." The retreat will be signalled by the Department for Transport this week in response to a back bench committee's report into the draft Local Transport Bill...
2007-09-24 - Guardian Blogs - Labour conference fringe: Kelly to press ahead with road pricing
Author: Dan Milmo
Summary: Ruth Kelly says pay-as-you-drive system will emerge because economic cost of increased congestion will spiral otherwise. A pay-as-you-drive road network is "inevitable", Ruth Kelly said today as the government signalled its determination to press ahead with a national road pricing scheme. ... Speaking at a Labour conference fringe meeting in Bournemouth this morning, Ms Kelly, the transport secretary, said that a pay-as-you-drive system would emerge because the economic cost of increased congestion would spiral otherwise. "Ultimately some of road pricing is inevitable," she said.
2007-08-03 - Kable - Road tolls must protect privacy
Summary: Local road charging schemes must protect the privacy of motorists if they are to be successful, says a committee of MPs. The Commons Transport Select Committee says that the monitoring of vehicle movements could create a fear of intrusion, which could undermine public support for road pricing schemes.
2007-07-18 - The Times - Traffic spies to join fight against crime
Author: Richard Ford
Summary: The details of journeys taken by millions of motorists are to be handed to police under a government "Big Brother" plan to use road pricing technology in the fight against crime. Police would be given instant access to number plate data from "smart" cameras monitoring congestion in cities and the movement of traffic on Britain’s major roads.
2007-07-18 - The Register - Terror-cops get realtime Congestion Charge database link
Author: Lewis Page
Summary: British terror-plods will be given real-time access to the massive camera network operated in London to support the Congestion Charge, it has been reported.
2007-07-18 - The Guardian - 'Big Brother' plan for police to use new road cameras
Author: Alan Travi
Summary: "Big Brother" plans to automatically hand the police details of the daily journeys of millions of motorists tracked by road pricing cameras across the country were inadvertently disclosed by the Home Office last night.
2007-07-17 - BBC News - Met given real time c-charge data
Summary: Police are to be given live access to London's congestion charge cameras - allowing them to track all vehicles entering and leaving the zone. Anti-terror officers will be exempted from parts of the Data Protection Act to allow them to see the date, time and location of vehicles in real time. They previously had to apply for access on a case-by-case basis.
2007-07-17 - Times - Terror police to track capital's cars
Author: Richard Ford
Summary: Police in London are to be able to track vehicles entering the capital by accessing congestion charge cameras as a result of the "enduring threat" of terrorist car bombings. Ministers today lifted restrictions on access to the cameras to enable the Metropolitan Police to view images in "real time" from the 1,500 congestion charge cameras in the capital.
2006-12-23 - The Times - Nationwide spy system to track millions of car journeys a day
Author: Stewart Tendler
Summary: The daily journeys of millions of motorists across Britain will be recorded by computer as they drive on motorways or in city centres. Finishing touches are being put to a central database in North London, which will link 3,000 closed-circuit cameras across the country with automatic numberplate recognition computers, national car records and police control rooms.
2006-11-29 - - Surveillance chief says number plate cameras could be illegal
Summary: The Home Office is reviewing the legal status of automatic number plate surveillance cameras after the Chief Surveillance Commissioner advised that they could be operating unlawfully.
2006-08-26 - The Scotsman - 'Big Brother' concerns as secret system of cameras is rolled out
Author: Michael Howie
Summary: A NETWORK of secret roadside cameras used to track terror suspects, drug traffickers and child abductors has been rolled out across Scotland, police have revealed. Senior officers have told The Scotsman that the installation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras was completed this month, allowing detectives to monitor the movements of suspects from a 4,000 name watchlist as they travel on major routes across the country.
2006-07-25 - Slashdot - License Plate Tracking for the Average Citizen
Summary: license plate tracking systems may soon be available to the average citizen. Privacy advocates, however, worry that personal information and associated movement could be used inappropriately by marketing companies.
2006-07-25 - Wired News - License Plate Tracking for All
Author: Luke O'Brien
Summary: Bucholz, who designed some of the first mobile license plate reading, or LPR, equipment, gave a presentation at the 2006 National Institute of Justice conference here last week laying out a vision of the future in which LPR does everything from helping insurance companies find missing cars to letting retail chains chart customer migrations. It could also let a nosy citizen with enough cash find out if the mayor is having an affair, he says.
2006-07-15 - The Scotsman - Number plate cameras may be illegal
Author: Hamish Macdonell
Summary: POLICE cameras which use automatic number plate recognition could breach human rights legislation, a leading surveillance expert has warned. Sir Andrew Leggatt, Chief Surveillance Commissioner, urged ministers in Edinburgh and London to bring forward legislation swiftly to ensure the equipment is in line with privacy laws and police are not prevented from using the cameras to provide evidence in court.