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

Transport Minister's mythspeaks...

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Other technological developments such as speed governors, remote disabling and biometric activation are also on ACPO's wishlist (see Cars of the Future), and Brussels is likely to be a help with at least some of them. Speed governors in particular, although not massively sexy, could provide a mechanism whereby the 24x7 network could be used to enforce speed limits. Technologically there's no reason why a satellite and EVI box road pricing system couldn't be used to levy speeding fines, but there are obvious political difficulties to using it directly in this way, hence Alexander's denial.

ACPO intends to track everyone using the latest available technology, and the DFT's own studies reckon satellite tracking and boxes built into all cars will be necessary to support national road pricing. In the absence of any categorical statements from the government saying that the police won't be given access to the system, we must surely conclude that the ABD "myth" of 24x7 surveillance and a compulsory black box fitted to all vehicles is entirely accurate.

It is not however the national road pricing system (or the ID scheme, or the Children's Index, or any of dozens of other schemes) that is of itself evil and must be stopped. The difficulties arise from the interaction of two philosophies. At the government end, data gathering and sharing is seen unquestionably as A Good Thing, and to this end a growing list of security operatives and local and national government officials gain the ability to share your data because it's in your interest (and what have you got to hide?). But don't worry, they only act on this data if it's important that they do - 'trust me, I'm a borough surveyor.' Absolute rights to privacy are seen as old-fashioned, an obstruction to the deployment of the technology that is going to make our lives so much better.

Meanwhile as a publicly-stated (repeatedly) cornerstone of its IT strategy the Police Service intends to broaden and deepen its acquisition and use of data ("develop links to further databases"), and in the name of fighting crime and terrorism, or improving road safety, the safeguards exception will always apply to them. The ultimate effect of this can be visualised with the aid of some Boys-in-Blue-Skying in section 4 of Denying Criminals the Use of the Roads, "A day in the life of ANPR - how it could look." Is it worse that this is how they think it will look, or that they think it's a good thing that it will look like this? You decide.

ANPR is to the fore in the fictional town of Sandford, ACPO tells us. "Sandford had the foresight to invest in the extensive Local Authority CCTV scheme, as part of its CDRP [Crime & Disorder Partnership] strategy. This involved ensuring the scheme was ANPR enabled and paying for half a dozen extra cameras to cover some key routes into the town. Sandford has also benefited from force level links with the Highways Agency, which means that ANPR read data is available about vehicles travelling on the nearby motorway. Chief Superintendent Jones has also pooled investment with his adjoining division. This has allowed them to cover some key back routes between the two, regularly used by criminals, with a number of strategically located ANPR cameras. As these have infrared capability, they provide intelligence 24 hours a day."

This allows some interesting databases to interact. For example, continues Jones, "We recently linked into the ANPR system of over 40 of our garage forecourts. They benefit from our intelligence telling them which vehicles to take payment from before they serve them. In return, we get a considerable reduction in forecourt crime, more intelligence on vehicle movements and confirmation of the identities of those using the cars."

Unhappily, Jones doesn't explain how Sandford nick knows whether or not customers are going to pay, nor does he say how the reactions of the lucky victims are managed by the unfortunate cashiers. On which subject, according to his colleague, DI Williams, "We expect to gain about £50,000 income this year from hypothecation of ANPR fixed penalty tickets under Project Laser 3. We have already invested that income in a full time Intelligence Researcher, an extra part time Inputter, as well contributing half a post to the force Central Ticket Office."

Over at serious crimes, DCI McKinnon says ANPR has revolutionised reactive crime investigation. "For example, following a recent murder, targeted enquiries with witnesses identified from ANPR reads as being in the area during the material times not only saved considerable time and resources compared to the old road check methods, it was more accurate and identified two key witnesses. Most important of all it also provided crucial evidence as to the time, date, location and direction of travel of the prime suspect’s vehicle. Her CID use it regularly."

This process, just in case you failed to notice, will have involved going through all of the vehicle movement records for a specific time in a specific area, then identifying and contacting drivers who were in the vicinity at the time of the crime. Over at the ANPR intercept team, PC Brown points out that high speed chases are now needed less frequently, because the CCTV system in Sandford allows them to "use the traffic control system to change traffic lights and block the target vehicles in traffic." Congestion as a crime-fighting weapon - splendid. Much, much more can be found in the full document. ®

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