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24x7 vehicle surveillance, and how road pricing helps it along

Transport Minister's mythspeaks...

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Alexander seems to contend that the myths and falsehoods emanate from the Association of British Drivers, the primary backer of the petition. The ABD makes its pitch here, stating that "Britain's drivers will be targeted 24 hours a day 7 days a week by a spy network comprising satellites, ANPR cameras, and roadside tracking devices. Privacy will become a thing of the past."

This does not seem an unreasonable statement of the position, and if you substituted 'monitored' for 'targeted' and deleted 'spy' and the privacy claim, even Transport Ministers might be pushed to say it was anything other than a statement of fact.

Hence the safeguards, and hence the need at this juncture for us to turn to the traditional exception to the safeguards, law enforcement. Police and security services have not, so far as we're aware, emitted a cheep on the subject of road pricing schemes, but ACPO has some well documented plans which are most certainly relevant.

A road pricing system charges for road use, and doesn't directly do any of the other stuff. The data it produces could however be extremely useful to the enforcement arm, the one that's the beneficiary of the safeguards exception, that is busily constructing a national vehicle movement database, and that intends to retain records of all vehicle movements for a full five years. ACPO's March 2005 document, Denying Criminals the Use of the Roads explains in some detail how its national vehicle surveillance system will be built and will operate, and puts forward some fascinating examples of how it will operate in the closely-surveilled future.

The document promotes the police's exploitation of "the full potential of ANPR" and "successor Electronic Vehicle Identification technologies". This will involve the establishment of "a national ANPR camera and reader infrastructure utilising police, local authority, Highways Agency and other partner and commercial sector cameras."

The strategy will include "Working with PITO [Police Information Technology Organisation] and others to ensure vehicle intelligence and ANPR systems are integrated into other key national information management developments and IT infrastructures"; "Working to improve the quality and timeliness of intelligence databases feeding into ANPR systems and develop links to further databases at national and Force levels"; and "Promoting the develop of Electronic Vehicle Identification (EVI) technology. EVI offers the potential of supplementing and enhancing ANPR. EVI will utilise the same back end and business processes as ANPR."

We should note from this first that ACPO sees its current ANPR system as evolving as future technologies come on-stream (it's already evolving a wide range of systems by lobbying for the addition of ANPR functionality and their co-option to the police network), and second that it's mustard-keen on EVI. ACPO has also made this clear in other venues, notably in its contribution to the Transport Committee's Cars of the Future report.

EVI is a key component of road charging, because in order to charge a driver you need to identify a vehicle, and the EVI requirements of a national road pricing scheme are substantial. A 2004 feasibility study into road pricing for the Department of Transport concluded that charging by time, place and distance was becoming more feasible (embarrassingly it cites as evidence the LRUC, cancelled the following year, and the German lorry-charging scheme, which had been subject to huge delays and cost overruns).

In order to implement it, however, it would be necessary to use the GPS capabilities of the EU system, Galileo, and it felt that "the technology needed to implement a national distance-based scheme will need generally to be fitted to vehicles during the manufacturing process, since its complexity and the potential for interference between it and other electronic components, and the need for robustness, would make retrofitment difficult and expensive."

This would require a Vehicle Directive from the EU, but as can be seen here, the EU has been busy on EVI for some time.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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