By Charlie Sorrel May 27, 2009
UK police are on the verge of a a huge surveillance coup which will make 1984’s tele-screens look as dumb and benevolent as a corner-store CCTV rig. Britain’s network of spy-cameras includes a fleet of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cams which read around 10 million license plates a day. These will soon be piped into one central computer which will compile and share this intelligence across the nation.
Remember: This isn’t being used to scan and log already suspect automobiles. It is recording the movements of every road user, whether a suspect, a criminal or an innocent traveller. Of course, these “innocent people have nothing to fear from the way we use it” Michael Fuller, Chief Constable of Kent, told the BBC.
Innocent people such as John Catt, for example. An anti-war demonstrator who has never been convicted of any crime, Catt was pulled by cops and “threatened under the Terrorist Act” after his car was marked for surveillance by the system. Catt is over 65 years old.
Almost any “good enough” camera can be added to the network with a simple software upgrade, which means that millions of Britain’s legendary number of CCTV cams could be networked and used to log car registrations. Think about this for a second. Theoretically, any car could be tracked across the country. Not just by following it on the prolific CCTV network, but after the fact, just by typing the license plate number into a search engine. Are you scared yet?
Readers might like to check out a book by Charlie Stross, called the “Atrocity Archive” for an in depth look on just what a nationally networked camera system and some secret software sauce can do.