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British car parks start reading number plates

And tell the world you went to see Twilight

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UK car parks are now reading number plates to ensure everyone pays their due, with payments deducted from the account and unregistered parkers getting a ticket while everyone gets tracked.

The system is called SwishPARK and already operational in eleven car parks, six in Welwyn Garden City, the rest scattered around England. The companies involved are planning a rapid expansion.

The charging is handled by paythru, who already provide mobile billing for car parks - enabling registered users to pay for parking by texting the car-park code to paythru - but now even that stage is removed with SwishPARK which just reads the number plate as one enters a parking area and deducts the cost when one leaves, spotting unregistered parkers at the same time.

The technology is nothing new, but this launch significantly increases the spread of numberplate scanning by bundling it all into a publicly-available package. Ranger Services provides the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) tech here while Parkeon has the spaces and paythru collects the cash.

Every car which enters a SwishPARK site has its number plate read, the details being run though the paythru database to identify the account. If there's no account then the driver is given a little time to pay by other means (paythru can take registrations though a .mobi site) but eventually a fine will be issued which can be served via the DVLA details linked to the plate.

As one account can be used to park in any car park, paythru gains lots of useful demographic data about where people are going and when, but the company told us it has no plans to do anything with that information despite the way it encourages car parks to make use of the location-specific data they'll be provided with.

Paythru is very excited about the potential for that data, and provided an example: a case of mysteriously-packed car parks which turned out to be down to the opening of the Twilight movie nearby, which definitely begs some privacy questions.

Seeing Twilight is certainly something one would want to keep quiet about, unless one is a teenage girl, but given one's credit card company, mobile operator and the cinema itself will soon know then any chance of keeping such a foul deed under one's hat would seem minimal. Should the car park really be a worry then travel by motorcycle, as SwishPARK admits that the lack of front plate makes two-wheeled transport invisible to them. ®

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