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22 December, 2005

This is WRONG

The Independent reports a story so bad I found it literally nauseating.  However, it's a little odd that neither the BBC nor the Guardian, news sources I tend to trust (in as much as I trust any mass-medium), mention it at all.

The article claims that from next year every single journey by every single car in the UK will be monitored by the state.

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.
The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.

By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate 'reads' per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.
Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.

Does anyone even care about individual liberty?
Senior police officers have described the surveillance network as possibly the biggest advance in the technology of crime detection and prevention since the introduction of DNA fingerprinting. [It is said that] this development forms the basis of a 24/7 vehicle movement database that will revolutionise arrest, intelligence and crime investigation opportunities on a national basis.

**** the convenience for the police – this is wrong. I can appreciate that detection of crime is difficult. Tough. Freedom is always more important, even if that makes life difficult for the police. I believe that apart from in political contexts, the UK police generally do well already, and consequently their powers and resources should not be extended.
The state exists to serve the people, never the reverse. It is my fundamental belief that the state should not have detailed knowledge of individual citizens. To say this is going too far is like saying the Atlantic Ocean is a bit damp. I was going to make a flippant comment such as "what's next? Subcutaneous GPS implants?", but suddenly that's not so inconceivable a leap.

Let's be clear: this isn't surveillance of convicted criminals, nor even of previously-identified criminal suspects (and whose standards define 'suspicious'?), but everyone. Millions of people, law-abiding or otherwise, will soon be routinely monitored, with logs of our movements stored in a central database for years.

The article focuses on reduction of car crime, but it would be all too easy to target legal but 'inconvenient' dissenters. What are the chances of a car logged as having been in the vicinity of one protest event being turned away by police on the way to another protest? The Independent happens to mention, without elaboration or comment, the fascinating claim that MI5 (the UK's domestic intelligence service – some might over-dramatically call MI5 'the secret police') will also use the database for purposes that even a Chief Constable (regional police chief) doesn't know about.


Indeed - this isn't about helping the police, stopping people from blowing us up or anything else. This is quite clearly an overweening and authoritarian Government extending its power over innocent British people. Same goes for the National Identity Register, the Children's Database, extending police powers, CCTV cameras, speed cameras, the Government's relentless attacks on the rule of law and so on.

Still, most people are satisfied watching bloody EastEnders or I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here! to take much notice of what's really happening regarding the very long-held liberties and freedoms that are supposedly so precious to us. It makes me despair sometimes.

Posted by Paul at December 22, 2005 04:31 PM

It does seem pretty draconian, but as you say, the fact that only the Independent has picked it up may be telling. We'll see what happens in the papers tomorrow. Notice also the lack of quotes from agencies in the article - it seems to pass details of as fact but it's lacking concrete evidence to back up its statements.

In any case, if a system like this does come into force, hopefully it will take off the roads all of those who drive without licenses and insurance.

Posted by Neil T. at December 22, 2005 09:06 PM

It's in the Telegraph and the Scotsman now. Interesting quote from the Telegraph:

'But Edmund King, the executive director of the RAC Foundation, supported the initiative.

'"I think the majority of motorists would welcome ANPR if it gets off the road uninsured motorists who are responsible for many hit and run accidents and rising premiums."'

And from the Scotsman:

'John Scott, one of Scotland's leading human rights lawyers, said more cameras meant a higher risk of abuse.

'He said: "If it is properly used then this can be a valuable crime- fighting and crime-detecting tool. However, with the expansion of any system of monitoring like this, there is increased scope for abuse. It's not at all clear to me that there are safeguards in place to prevent this."'

Posted by Neil T. at December 23, 2005 08:51 AM

This proposal goes way beyond the level appropriate to catch unlicenced/uninsured drivers, so that aspect really is an irrelevant distraction. Such motorists could be caught by one-off spot-checks, using the output of the existing system or a drastically-reduced version of the proposed system.

Perhaps every number plate passing a particular camera on a particular morning could be read and checked against the DVLA database. Those of concern could be handled by conventional policing, whilst the legitimate numbers should be deleted from the sample. Storing records of all vehicles for years is irrelevant to this specific role.

Posted by NRT at December 23, 2005 10:53 AM
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