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First introduced in 1976 in the United Kingdom, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is mass surveillance technology that utilizes optical data recognition to read the characters on vehicle license plates and record the data on a database. It utilizes high-speed image capturing to identify the characters on number plates as they pass by an infrared camera. After this process, it compares and analyzes the data in the captured image to a list of already registered drivers on the database and returns information such as the vehicle make and model, including details of the owner for further action.
Firstly, How Does ANPR Work?
In an Automatic Number Plate Recognition system, a combination of a camera and an AI or computer software work in unison to capture and read data. The camera is fitted with a lens, which is enclosed in the camera body or casing. At the same time, the AI may be built-in within the camera or installed on an external computer as software. The device is mounted on stationary structures such as poles and traffic lights or on moving police cruisers, where snapshots of vehicles are taken and stored. The device then relays the data to the ANPR software, which compares each plate against a designated database. Such databases may include stolen cars, cars associated with AMBER Alerts for abducted children, unpaid parking tickets and so on.
What Are License Plate Recognition Programs for Police Departments?
Originally, ANPR was introduced for use at the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB), UK, now known as the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB), to detect and control crime. To date, ANPR finds valuable applications in arresting criminality at local, regional and national levels. By positioning license plate recognition programs for police departments in locations with high crime rates, the police can:
- Intercept traveling criminals;
- Monitor areas for stolen or suspicious vehicles;
- Provide visual proof of the crime to support the prosecution of cases;
- Identify and automatically issue tickets to vehicles that break traffic laws.
Other Applications of ANPR Cameras
Despite its robust application in law enforcement, in recent times, ANPR cameras have been employed in other government agencies concerned with public space management and parking. These roles include:
- Management of public space and parking of facilities such as offices, production and manufacturing plants;
- Allowing only approved vehicles to use designated parking lots;
- Monitoring and timing the entry and exit of vehicles;
- Collecting tolls and generating parking fees;
- Predict traffic jams and control the flow of traffic;
- Dissuading car thefts and vandalism;
- Monitoring dumping and pollution.
The Flip Side of ANPR
The role of ANPR has continued to expand over time, further bolstering its relevance in our modern cities. However, with the growth of this highly invasive technology comes legal and policy development issues. A UK report states that while the ANPR system enters up to 30 million records each year using 9,000 ANPR cameras, about 1.2 million false readings are discovered daily. This development has incited debates and is now being described as excessive and not only a breach of privacy but a case of wrongful criminality by the British Parking Society. Consequently, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has released a Code of Practice ensuring that electronic surveillance systems, including ANPR cameras, are used in compliance with the Data Protection Act.
Also, the National ANPR Standards for Policing and Law Enforcement (NASPLE) and National Compliance and Audit Standards for Law Enforcement ANPR (Audit Standards) provide rules to regulate access to ANPR data, ensuring that access to such vast data is reserved for legitimate investigation purposes.
Tips On How To Avoid ANPR Cameras
If you are still uncomfortable with the attempts to curb the apparent drawbacks of ANPR and you wish to avoid them altogether, we have compiled some tips that you may find useful. However, be mindful that this may be illegal depending on your state; hence, this list is for educational purposes.
1. Drive Straddling Two Lanes
Drive on the dotted line between the lanes rather than on the lane itself, or switch lanes often- especially just at the spot the cameras would take the photo. This will throw off the cameras.
2. Get a Vehicle to Tailgate You
You may tailgate a vehicle as well, depending on whether the camera is ahead of you or behind you. Here, you block your license plates from the camera’s point of view.
3. Continuously Alter Your Speed and Direction
This throws off the software predictions about your speed, making it difficult to stack several photo frames of your license plate.
4. Use Certain Products To Obscure Your Number Plate
Your number plate can be hidden from ANPR cameras with a variety of products available on the market. They include reflective tape, a bike rack, photo blocker spray, a fresnel lens and infrared LEDs.
Contact Plate Recognizer Today for a Free Trial
The right ANPR solution is critical to getting good results. At Plate Recognizer, we deliver only the best. Our services cut across areas of law enforcement, public spaces like parks, offices, construction sites, toll operators, production plants, government complexes and so on.
Click here to take our free trial ANPR.