In the UK the police force has access to a network of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras which can trace up to 14 million motorists on our roads. The national network of 4,000 cameras can take photographs of car number plates to help police track and log vehicle details. The average motorist is said to have their car photographed 100 times a year by the ever-growing web of ANPR cameras.

While ANPR has been a highly effective tool in the detection of crime and criminals with thousands of stolen cars found as a result of ‘pinging’ ANPR cameras the system can be fooled. In fact there have been instances where vehicle owners have found themselves being stopped because their registration details had been cloned or used to evade prosecution for speeding, illegal parking, insurance or other offences.

Some critics are more concerned about the ‘intrusive’ nature of ANPR and claim it is an invasion into people’s privacy calling for a balance between fighting crime & infringing the freedom of the law-abiding public. Law-abiding people should feel they can go about their business without being snooped on by the state.

Has ANPR gone too far and is it now an unnecessary and indiscriminate invasion of privacy?

Retailers have taken a very different view to ANPR with the technology making a transition from typical security use to improving customer services. The security uses of ANPR are fairly well known. Supermarket forecourts have primarily been using ANPR systems to protect themselves against drive-off fraud. Barrier ANPR intelligently monitors approaching vehicles, or oncoming traffic, via ANPR cameras capturing the registration numbers and matching them with information in a built-in proprietary database. The ANPR system checks the information with known drive-off offenders in real-time. If a warning is flagged a message is passed onto the forecourt terminal where action can be taken, i.e. automatically shuts down the pump.

Aside of security the same barrier ANPR systems are now being used to improve customer service. Disabled shoppers are now finding as they enter a supermarket’s car park they are met by a staff member ready to assist them with a trolley or help into the store. With the customer’s consent the ANPR captures the registration details of someone that needs assistance so the next time that individual comes back help is at hand. Disabled customers will also find they can even receive assistance at the petrol pump with the ANPR set to flag a message to customer services that calls for help.

In another novel use of ANPR some retailers are using the systems to measure footfall. The ANPR is used to recognised frequent drivers who pass by or call in to a store which is linked into a loyalty system that will instantly push discounts and offers to that customer as they enter the store via a mobile message etc. ANPR has many uses today in car parks, ports, airports, hospitals or any secure site controllers so expect many others to find more creative ways of using the technology to improve business.