Blunkett and satellite tags again

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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.

Blunkett claimed in Parliament that:

"Mr. Blunkett:

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."

8 Comments

Regarding the limitations of GSM tracking - obviously. And ankle bracelet tracking systems use a combination of both GPS and mobile networks to determine position (sometimes referred to as "Assisted GPS").

In urban areas there is likely to be a higher density of cellular transmitters, improving cellular positioning. In the less-urban rural areas the GPS is likely to be used more.

The emphasis on satellite is made either for or by the media, since most people seem to base their ideas of how GPS works based on its unlikely dramatic use in movies and TV.

(which is not to suggest that any aGPS tracker implementation is not going to be fallible in some way).

See the BluTag as an example of the ankle tag
http://www.onguard-plus.com/english/04track.html

If the Government was only planning to use these mobile tags on non-violent first time offenders then that would be worth investigating.

Instead of quietly conducting a trial of the technology, they have proudly trumpeted this as
the core of a new policy to be used for monitoring paedophiles and violent offenders i.e. just the people who will be driven to break their curfews regardless of the consequences, or who will be motivated to try to jam or spoof the system, which the average poll tax defaulter on bail etc. will not bother to try to do.

Combined GPS and Mobile phone systems have not been as successful in urban areas for tracking high value delivery vehicles etc. compared with such systems as Quiktrak, which uses a dedicated infrastructure of radio beacons and calculates the location of their tags via the network rather than via the GPS/Cellphone handset device.

http://www.quiktrak.co.uk/techniek.html#how

This infrastructure does not cover th whole country (neither, for that matter does the Mobile Phone infrastucture) and there is no way that for a maximum of 18,000 people (many of whom will remain tagged to fixed rather telephone lines rather than mobiles) it can be cost effective to build one.

Perhaps the iridium sats are still up there and will be used for this new fiasco.
Last I heard was that they were supposed to have been destroyed by forced re-entry.
Maybe not.....

The Iridium low earth orbiting mobile phone satellite network is still up there and in business (military and government work)

http://www.iridium.com/corp/iri_corp-news.asp

but that is not a GPS system and needs a much bigger antenna to transmit up to the satellite compared with that needed to communicate with a terrestrial mobile phone network.

Galileo the EU rival to the USA monopoly on GPS is in the works, but it too will suffer from exactly the same physical orbital clear line of sight problems here in the UK.

thanks for the info.
are these high orbit sats ????
low orbit one's will be the problem, but not geostationery one's.These are 50,000km up and can have a signal window of around 10hrs.....so even with only 2 sats, they can cover a 24hr period no problems.

The tagging devices would need to operate on microwave freqs.....maybe pulsed transmissions.......buildings and inner city shadows, should not present a problem at all.

I am totally against any form of tagging....good old hard labout like the yanks have, where the prisoners clean the streets are just the trick..

Iridium is a network of 66 (with 13 spares) Low Earth Orbit satellites (780Km - 485 miles high). Originally there were going to be 77 of them, hence the name Iridium (atomic weight of the element iridium is 77)

http://www.iridium.com/corp/iri_corp-understand.asp has a little Flash animation which gives details of how it works:

48 spot beams per satellite (30 miles in diameter each)
Telephone and Messaging: 1616 - 1626.5 MHz L-band
Intersatellite links: 23.18 - 23.38 GHz Ka-band
Downlink: 19.4 - 19.6 GHz Ka-band
Uplink: 29.1 - 29.3 GHz Ka-band
Digital Voice and Data: 2.4 kilobits per second.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iridium_%28satellite%29

They were developed before GSM mobile phones really took over the planet, and made the mistake of putting the expensive telephone switch into orbit, instead of doing all the switching and routing on the ground, like the rival Globalstar system, so they were never competitive on price and capacity. The system effectively went bankrupt, but got bailed out by the US military in 2001.

Apart from the voracious demand for satellite comms bandwidth by the US military (so great that, for example, Powerpoint presentations are now banned from US Navy satellite channels), that it is doubtful if there is enough capacity for thousands of UK electronic tags to be monitored, let alone millions of vehicles on toll roads.

Suspicious people who cannot believe that they could have been so naive commercially, might conclude that there could be some sort of electronic eavesdropping capability in this array of 66 Low or Medium Earth Orbit satellites, and that some of the in orbit "spares" could be cover for secret spy or comms satellites - there is a lot of modern electronics that could be fitted into a 689Kg (1500 pound) satellite without affecting the original capability, which was designed over 15 years ago.

geostationery sats would definetly be the answer.increases in technology will allow for this type of tagging to take place and its just a matter of time.
This new car tracking proposal gets one thinking as well....the infrastructure is already there on our motorways and roads. these could easily and quickly be converted within a few months.

The infrastructure is *not* there at present, that is the point. It could be built, but it will cost billions and it will be hugely intrusive.

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Recent Comments

  • wtwu: The infrastructure is *not* there at present, that is the read more
  • john: geostationery sats would definetly be the answer.increases in technology will read more
  • wtwu: Iridium is a network of 66 (with 13 spares) Low read more
  • john: thanks for the info. are these high orbit sats ???? read more
  • wtwu: The Iridium low earth orbiting mobile phone satellite network is read more
  • john: Perhaps the iridium sats are still up there and will read more
  • wtwu: If the Government was only planning to use these mobile read more
  • Lee: Regarding the limitations of GSM tracking - obviously. And ankle read more

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Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

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Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

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National Crime Agency - the replacement for the Serious Organised Crime Agency

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Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

Foreign Spies / Intelliegence Agencies in the UK

It is not just the UK government which tries to snoop on British companies, organisations and individuals, the rest of the world is constantly trying to do the same, regardless of the mixed efforts of our own UK Intelligence Agencies who are paid to supposedly protect us from them.

For no good reason, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only keeps the current version of the London Diplomatic List of accredited Diplomats (including some Foreign Intelligence Agency operatives) online.

Presumably every mainstream media organisation, intelligence agency, serious organised crime or terrorist gang keeps historical copies, so here are some older versions of the London Diplomatic List, for the benefit of web search engine queries, for those people who do not want their visits to appear in the FCO web server logfiles or those whose censored internet feeds block access to UK Government websites.

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

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Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

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Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

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Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV

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I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !

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Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign

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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."

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Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

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WhistleblowersUK.org - Fighting for justice for whistleblowers