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Fri, 23 Dec 2005

Paranoid thought for the day

Like somewhere over 80% of the UK's adult population, I have a driving license. Like over half the population, I have a car. And I was somewhat taken aback (but not too surprised) to read a report in the Independent that from 2006, every journey by car will be monitored by camera. Existing roadside CCTV cameras are being hooked into the police ANPR system (automatic number plate recognition) and by next March, they're expecting to be logging up to 35 million number plate reads per day, along with precise time and location information.

(They're waving the Terrorism bloody shirt around a lot, seemingly in ignorance of the fact that the July 7th bombers did their stuff on public transport. But that's about par for the level of logic I'm coming to expect from our public servants these days. It seems to be a case of "if something is possible it must be done" in respect of any and all possible surveillance technologies. Presumably because of a misplaced neo-Benthamite trust in the panopticon ...)


As I said, I own and drive a car. I'm not much of a boy racer (I'm actually that sluggish Volvo Estate driver you're fuming because you're backed up behind ...) but I've got a feeling that it would be prudent to make a new year's resolution to drive precisely within the legally allowed maximum -- within, in other words, 10% of the speed limit -- from now on. In fact, preferably from a couple of years ago on. Even when there's not a GATSO or a police car in sight. Because ...

These CCTV cameras are already up and running. And it's highly likely that some or all of the take from these cameras is being recorded for posterity.

It's quite feasible to log all our motorway traffic. Let's say they're using MPEG4 as a compression standard. MPEG4 footage at TV resolution, in colour, runs to about 0.5Gb/hour, but you can compress it a lot further by only recording segments where some object of interest (i.e. a vehicle) is moving through the field of vision, or only recording in black and white, and so on. A ballpark figure is that a motorway camera is going to deliver 5-7Gb of data (one DVD full) per day, and warehousing that kind of amount of data for a network of a couple of thousand cameras is eminently practical -- it's only a couple of terabytes a day for the entire country.

Now, these cameras aren't being used for speed enforcement just yet, and indeed ANPR is primarily aimed at traffic analysis, not speeding. However, it's a fair cop that if you drive onto the M1 motorway at Junction 1 and leave it 200 miles later, at Junction 40 or thereabouts, in three hours or less, you must have exceeded the speed limit. So, once the ANPR network is chewing down all that juicy data, persistent speeders -- people who cruise up the motorway at 80mph instead of 77 -- are going to get a nasty shock.

Finally, as image analysis kit gets faster, it's only a matter of time before some bright spark at the Highways Agency gets the idea of pulling any and all archival footage and scanning it for speeders, then issuing tickets. Never mind that it'll be a couple of years in arrears -- they were breaking the law, weren't they? It's no different from using databases of archived DNA samples to crack cold case crimes. And if you object to it, why are you trying to protect lawbreakers ...?

[Discuss Big Brother]

posted at: 17:13 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry


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The Register ]
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Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
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Simon Bisson's Journal ]
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Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
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