One feature of the Blair/Blunkett 5 year plan to reduce crime seems to be a plan to increase the use of electronic tagging of offenders and of people on bail.
We have already criticised the prospect of electronic tags being used inappropriately on offenders who are highly motivated to re-offend.
We also have extreme doubts about concepts such as enforcing "no go areas" through Global Positioning Satellite technology - it simply does not work well in the the crowded narrow urban streets of the UK, which is at a northern latitude which means that the GPS satellites in geostationary orboit over the equator appear relatively low down in the sky, and therefore suffer from many reception blackspots. Just because some technology works reasonably well in the wide open desert spaces of the southern USA does not mean that it is suitable here in the UK.
Yes, the prolific offenders programme will involve electronic tagging and satellite tracking. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether that would be instead of prison sentences. No, it will be part of the new supervision programme that was passed in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and it can really be effective as part of that programme only if we know exactly where people are and can track their movements down to the last few metres."
Even combined GPS and Cellphone technology can only achieve this sort of accuracy in the most favourable circumstances. There are literally millions of locations where this level of accuracy is simply not possible at all - mobile phone reception blackspots are a nuisance for a normal user, but are a huge security hole for a system which relies on them for monitoring. This is not good enough if an attempt is made to use it as a security measure against uncooperative or desparate people who may well resort to jamming, shielding, tampering, GPS spoofing and replay etc. How well will the parole system respond to a large number of false alarms which then mask the times when the offender actually enters the so called "no go zones" ?
Nevertheless, it seems as if the Home Office is planning to try out this mobile tagging technology this September, and plans to double the number of people being tagged to 18,000 by 2008.
The suspicion must remain that this is being seen as a cheaper alternative to building and staffing more prisons, as the plan seems to be to increase the current 75,000 inmates to only 80,000 prison places by 2008.
It is utter madness to electronically tag the people on the Violent and Sexual Offenders Register - these people should be in prison if they are at risk of re-offending. If they are not at risk of recidivism, then they should not be on the ViSOR system in the first place.
CORRECTION: - thanks to those people who have reminded us that GPS satellites are mostly not geostationary about the equator.
"GPS has poorer coverage the further you go from the equator, but the GPS satellites are NOT geostationary, they are in a 55 degree inclined orbit, which gives poorer coverage away from the equator.
There are 4 augmentation satellites (WAAS and EGNOS systems) that ARE
geostationary that can also be used for navigation, but the 24 GPS
satellites are NOT geostationary."