Those interested in information law in the context of policing will wish to note the very recent Tribunal decision in Mathieson v IC and Devon and Cornwall Constabulary (EA/2010/0174).

Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are strategic policing tools used by a number of forces.  Mr Mathieson asked Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to provide him with the locations of its ANPR cameras. It refused, relying on the prejudice-based qualified exemptions at s. 31(1)(a) (prevention or detection of crime) and s. 31(1)(b) (apprehension or prosecution of offenders). The Commissioner considered that the public interest arguments – though finely balanced – favoured the maintenance of these exemptions.

The Tribunal agreed that these exemptions were engaged, but disagreed on the public interest, and ordered disclosure.  It considered that the Commissioner had overlooked a number of relevant factors.

First, this is a privacy issue: ANPR cameras capture vast amounts of personal data; there is therefore substantial public interest in scrutiny of their use (further illustrated by parliamentary questions on the subject). Secondly, location data alone would not undermine policing – information on factors such as policing tactics, data and analytical capabilities were equally necessary.

Furthermore, the Constabulary had put forward weak arguments: the Tribunal was unimpressed by its attempt to rely on reports by other police forces on their use of ANPR cameras, and by its focus on issues such as the potential for vandalism – which is not sufficiently connected to the interests protected by ss. 31(1)(a) and (b).