Monday, 5 July 2010

Eye spy a number plate scandal

"Spy cameras which can track car number plates are in the government's firing line, following a 'scandal' in Birmingham.

Home secretary, Theresa May, announced she had expanded a review into the huge expansion of CCTV to include the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

The move follows uproar after the cameras were secretly installed in Birmingham neighbourhoods with large Muslim populations - using £3m of 'counterterrorism' cash.

A network of 150-odd ANPR cameras was planned, to track residents entering or leaving Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, under a scheme dubbed Project Champion.

Some Birmingham city councillors complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, alleging the council was deliberately misled by West Midlands police.

The police were accused of pretending the project was for run-of-the-mill crime-fighting - when, in fact, the cash came a Terrorism and Allied Matters fund, intended to 'deter or prevent terrorism'."

Quite obviously, the way to know where a car (or any moveable asset) is at any time is to put a tracking device in it, and the obvious time to do that is when it is built. It would be a tremendous advantage to be able to know where all cars are all times. This ANPR technology is bridging the gap between the crude idea  of a number plate and a proper technological solution to the management of mobile assets. This retrofit of ANPR is bound to be more expensive, because as crude as a number plate is, it is fairly hard for a computer to read the characters off it.

The controversy here, though, is not just the cost, its lso the tracking of residents, which is done by looking up the ANPR-ed number plates on the DVLA computer and associating the registered keeper details with the registration mark. This is exactly the same process as would be done if the car reported its registration via RFID or SMS or Wimax, or some technological process.

The morality or effectiveness of counter terrorism measures is outside my scope, but at least do it technically efficiently if you're going to do it.

In a sane world you would know where all vehicles are all the time so you could deploy them efficiently. If you want a cab, you want the nearest one to you that's free (assuming it's the right spec). Of course with our current free market system of competing cab firms you just have to contact all of them.

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