The Independent has a few more details about the astonishing plan to create a centralised Automatic Number Plate Recognition Database, which will attempt to monitor every vehicle movement on the United Kingdom from next year.
Britain will be first country to monitor every car journey
From 2006 Britain will be the first country where every journey by every car will be monitored
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 22 December 2005
Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.
Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.
This plan seems to get more and more ambitious with every report.
Where was the Public Consultation or the Parliamentary Scrutiny of this invasion of the privacy of millions of innocent road users, not just the movements of suspected criminals ?
We have already tried to warn about the implications of this plan before.
The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.
By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate "reads" per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.
Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.
Exactly who has sanctioned such an expansion, and on what grounds ?
The scheme is being orchestrated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and has the full backing of ministers who have sanctioned the spending of £24m this year on equipment.
More than 50 local authorities have signed agreements to allow the police to convert thousands of existing traffic cameras so they can read number plates automatically. The data will then be transmitted to Hendon via a secure police communications network.
There must be no shared infrastructure or non-police human operators between the secure police communications network and the insecure Local Government systems.
Chief constables are also on the verge of brokering agreements with the Highways Agency, supermarkets and petrol station owners to incorporate their own CCTV cameras into the network. In addition to cross-checking each number plate against stolen and suspect vehicles held on the Police National Computer, the national data centre will also check whether each vehicle is lawfully licensed, insured and has a valid MoT test certificate.
If the Local Authorities and Private Companies link their CCTV systems and ANPR systems to the Police, there will almost certainly be an insecure "backdoor" into the Police National Computer and other intelligence databases.
"Every time you make a car journey already, you'll be on CCTV somewhere. The difference is that, in future, the car's index plates will be read as well," said Frank Whiteley, Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and chairman of the Acpo steering committee on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).
"What the data centre should be able to tell you is where a vehicle was in the past and where it is now, whether it was or wasn't at a particular location, and the routes taken to and from those crime scenes. Particularly important are associated vehicles," Mr Whiteley said.
The term "associated vehicles" means analysing convoys of cars, vans or trucks to see who is driving alongside a vehicle that is already known to be of interest to the police. Criminals, for instance, will drive somewhere in a lawful vehicle, steal a car and then drive back in convoy to commit further crimes "You're not necessarily interested in the stolen vehicle. You're interested in what's moving with the stolen vehicle," Mr Whiteley explained.
So if a "suspect" vehicle is detected, its vehicle movemnets will be stored for at least two years and longer if it is part of an ongoing police or intelligence services investigation.
This is fair enough.
However, what is totally unacceptable is that any vehicle which appears to be "associated" with the "suspect vehicle" , i.e. one which happens to pass an ANPR camera at about the same time, will also have its movements logged and retained and the driver will have a black mark put on his or her police intelligence file.
The opportunities for millions of innocent people to be caught up in such a dragnet should obvious to everyone except, apparently, to ACPO and NuLabour Ministers.
Mr Whiteley said MI5 will also use the database. "Clearly there are values for this in counter-terrorism," he said.
"The security services will use it for purposes that I frankly don't have access to. It's part of public protection. If the security services did not have access to this, we'd be negligent."
Where are the safeguards which will ensure that this National Database will not be used to monitor, say, the political opponents of the NuLabour government ?