Data retention and vehicle tracking

January 2nd, 2006 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

Just before I came home for Christmas I was Paul’s guest on MediaGeek on WEFT. We had intended, originally, to talk about the state of community media in Ireland and Europe generally, but ended up spending most of the show talking about the Data Retention compromise that had just passed the European Parliament.

The compromise, agreed by the major party groups, seems somehow incoherent – it doesn’t set a common period for retention, it removes provisions for compensating ISPs and telcos for the costs involved in retention, and it includes the standard fudge about being a temporary measure subject to review in three years time.

Due to my travel schedule I didn’t get around to blogging about this at the time, but that’s OK, because data retention is such a hot topic now that there have been several other developments since that deserve to be squeezed in.

First, Boing Boing reported on UK plans to track all car movements – keeping the records for two years. At first this seemed a little unlikely – perhaps an overstatement of their policies or plans – but further research showed that this was merely an extension of the application of their ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system, which draws from the huge number of CCTV cameras in the UK, the largest in the world. From the first of January, i.e. yesterday, the ANPR system is being expanded to put all sightings of number plates into a database, which can later be mined for who-knows-what.

And then, pat on cue it comes, a report in the Irish Times that the Garda Síochána, the Irish police force, are to purchase and install an ANPR system. Or rather, they have a request pending at Garda Headquarters to do so. According to the article, the request is expected – by whom it doesn’t say – to be approved shortly. Among the advantages of the system listed in the article are more efficient tracking of cars without insurance or tax, or of stolen vehicles – the system will interact with a fixed set of cameras on 50 Garda traffic unit vehicles.

It’s probably not surprising – given the manner in which the article seems to be uncritically acting as (pardon the pun) a vehicle for a Garda press leak – that no questions are raised about possible shortcomings of the system. I wonder, though, just when proposals will be made public to fully leverage the capabilities of the system by expanding its remit to retaining records of all car movements.

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