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420: the new number of the beast

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The police team assembling Britain's national Auto Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) database have got some interesting results in. Making the use of ANPR computers that spook traffic using roadside CCTV cameras, police in the UK made 420 arrests a week in January.

Then again in February, the combined efforts of 43 British police forces nabbed 420 criminals a week using ANPR. John Dean, the national ANPR co-ordinator for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), says the February figures are preliminary.

Nevertheless, these figures are very odd indeed. Those 420 arrests a week are the latest results from stage three of ACPO's "Laser" ANPR project, which involved the use of ANPR by all Britain's 43 police forces. As it happens, the Laser two pilot, in which 23 police forces used ANPR for a year to the summer of 2004, reported that one car in every 420 stopped by the ANPR team was a stolen car containing stolen goods.

This is where it gets spooky. In February last year, 420 people were "accurately" stopped by Metropolitan police ANPR in London (civil libertarians might want to note that 3,318 more people were mistakenly stopped by police after they were falsely identified by the system).

While in the City of London, Operation Daimon, using a "mobile ANPR vehicle" over two days in August 2004, "produced 420 hits" (pdf) out of the 6,900 registration plates it read.

As it happens, the growth of the network of CCTV cameras in Wales has been justified numerous times on a flimsy bit of evidence that over 12 months to May 2004, cameras in Brynmawr, Blaina, and Abertillery recorded 420 "incidents", an unspecified number of which led to convictions.

That's quite a coincidence, because the Crime Reduction Programme (CRP), through which, amongst other things, the British government funded the growth of the world's largest CCTV network, had a total budget of £420m.

If this doesn't get your conspiracy alarm bells ringing, you need to smoke some more pot. Then note that most modern CCTV cameras have a 420 line resolution. Take another lug, and let's get back to the mystical powers the number 420 endows on those who wield power.

The Stonehenge People's Free Festival beloved of druids, hippies and peacenik crusties in the late 70s had its last summer solstice party in 1985, when police broke it up and apparently arrested 420 revellers at the legendary Battle of Beanfield.

420 is quite clearly a number not to be associated with CCTV alone. It has the ring of freedom about it, used as it is by old American freaks and younger counter-culture types as a loose reference to the act of smoking pot and the attitude of smokers - 420 means "good times".

This despite the fact that, as the Americans would arrange it, Adolf Hitler was born on 4/20, or 20 April.

Take, for example, biometrics, the 420 prisoners who were left wandering relatively freely around a high security jail for a month after the biometrically-controlled locks failed and wardens failed to notice.

Yet, 420 appears so regularly in the official statistics in the defence of things that would restrict your freedom, and among matters of interest to conspiracy theorists it has you a jumpin' and a startin' like you been toking big lugs on a joint made of Amsterdam's finest skunk weed.

Take, for example, the British government's case for introducing biometric identity cards. Among the evidence was the total of financial losses attributed to plastic card fraud in 2002, which totalled £420m. Or referenced for the same purpose, the total losses to plastic card issuers in 2003, a similar amount, from transactions totalling £420bn.

Californian law SB 420, by the way, imposed ID Cards on those people who wanted to use marijuana for medical purposes.

But that was just a decoy to lull you into a false sense of reality. Let it go...Oxford Research Group found in 2001 that the UK government spends around £420m annually to subsidise the arms trade. The basic budget for fiscal 2005 military spending in Iraq was £420bn.

420 seconds was supposed to be the amount of time president Bush took to respond after he was told of the terrorist attacks on 11 September. Flight 77 is supposed to have outran 420 supersonic fighter jets before hitting the Pentagon. On 14 September, the House of Representatives voted 420 to 1 to give Bush "all means necessary" in pursuit of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, which gave him the means to attack Iraq, which had no links to the attacks.

On 21 September, the Hearing on Aviation Security and the Future of the Aviation Industry learned that "about $420m" would be spent on explosive detection systems for airports. On 27 September, the president announced a plan to up security at the US' 420 commercial passenger airports.

Page 420 of the 9/11 Commission report of July 2004 noted that as the intelligence services are useless, someone should keep a close eye on them. After failing to spot the 9/11 attacks (conspiracy theorists go a little further than that, as this former intelligence agent reckons), and rolling us a pack of reefers in support of the invasion of Iraq, can they be trusted to keep their hands off a society managed by intense surveillance and powerful identity laws?

We need to call in an independent advisor to help us look at this, because we are clearly getting carried away with this whole conspiracy lark. How about some divine intervention?

Legend has it that Buddha, in defence of a holy man who was getting hassled by some nosy neighbours, read verse 420 of the Dhammapada, which when paraphrased says, "there's only one person who knows how righteous you are, and that's you dude; anyone else, including God, can keep their nose out".

420bc, incidentally, is a year thought by scholars to be a strong contender for the year in which the Buddha died. It was also the year in which the Chinese Emperor Gong, the last of the Jin dynasty, died at the hands of an evil mandarin's treachery, leaving behind a legacy that led to a flowering of Chinese Buddhism.

Gong is also the planet where the pothead pixies live, as recounted by the space-rocking stoner band of the same name. It is worth noting at this point that psychedelic godfather Alfred Hofmann was supposed to have come up on his first LSD trip at 4.20 in the afternoon.

Pot and LSD are not a combination that should be administered to conspiracy theorists, which is why we're now onto the Bible's book of Revelations. And Satan has quite a big part to play in Revelations, which is why we're taking the liberty of reading it backwards: Revelations 20:4 (in the British date format) talks of the mark of the beast. RFID bar codes tracked by intelligence services using CCTV cameras anyone?

Time to come down, with a thud. United Nations Security Council Resolution 420 was a repetition in 1973 of earlier resolutions intended to make the Israelis pull out of occupied Palestinian territories and 'let their people go'.

It harks back, via earlier resolutions, to Resolution 242, implemented at the end of the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israeli forces took the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

By the time of Resolution 420, 42 Israeli settlements had been built in the occupied territories in defiance of the UN. The West Bank barrier, the middle-East equivalent of the Berlin wall, is 420 miles long.

Resolution 242 called for all states to adhere to Article 2 of the UN Charter, which recognised the importance of sovereignty and allowing every state its right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

It was written in the aftermath of the second world war in the vain hope it would stop hawkish leaders from invading other countries on the flimsiest of evidence.

Last September, 60 years after the UN charter, in the run up to the first Palestinian elections the Israelis spent a week assaulting targets allied to Hamas, the party that subsequently won the election. They arrested 420 Palestinians from their most wanted list, reported The Guardian newspaper.

Are those building the surveillance state hawks too? Is your personal sovereignty safe from invasion by the powers that be? British police have justified their apprehension of anybody they catch using ANPR who just happens to have a minor driving offence listed against them with the following statement:

"Research indicates that minor traffic offenders are both more likely to commit serious traffic offences and be involved in other types of criminality. By focusing enforcement on these offenders, these technologies help to enable an intelligence-led approach to roads policing. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a particularly significant example of this strategy and is viewed by many to be among the most important new policing technologies." (Reference).

It is a defence you will hear again and again in justification of the use of surveillance to restrict people's freedoms. Like, "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear".

If you do fear, don't worry. Cash'n'Carrion will provide you with a shiny new tin foil hat - just £420 each.®

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