Thursday, December 22, 2005

Big Brother UK

The UK is already one of the world's worst surveillance societies, with an unparalleled number of video cameras watching citizens as they go about their daily business. And now, it's about to get worse. The Home Office has announced plans for a national surveillance system to record the movements of every vehicle on Britain's roads. Because most people use cars, this means that they will effectively be monitoring the movements of every British citizen. But this isn't just about collecting video footage - they'll be using automatic number-plate recognition software - currently successfully being used to enforce London's traffic congestion charge - to build a database of every vehicle's movements for two years. The application is of course data mining - not just tracking the movements of specific vehicles (and therefore individuals), but which vehicles they were driving with, and of course patterns of travel.

This is likely to have a dramatic effect on crime, particularly on stolen vehicles - but the potential for abuse is enormous. Every police station in the UK will be able to query this system - which means every police officer in the UK will be able to snoop on the everyday movements of their partner, their children, and their neighbours. Where they work, where they shop, who their friends are, whether they went to school on a particular day, whether they stopped off at a motel during their lunch-hour... And that's not even getting into what will happen when they start looking for "suspicious" movement patterns, or at those "associated" with a criminal suspect (those driving along behind them, for example). It is frankly Orwellian. And what's worse is that this is being done with no noise, no fuss, no legislation, and therefore no public debate. Instead, the chiefs of police have decided to do it, and cabinet has given them the money - without any public oversight whatsoever.

We would regard a society in which everyone was followed everywhere by their own personal thuggish-looking man in a trenchcoat and hat as being the height of tyranny. But that is effectively what the Blair government will be doing to Britain. So much for British liberty...


You can have the best of both worlds - the solution to that is more survelance.

By this I mean that there should be a record of every person who uses the system and it should be freely available and regularly checked.

Of course being caught using it inapropriatly would result in them being fired their access revoked and their being subject to whatever additional punishment is required.

Posted by Genius : 12/22/2005 05:20:00 PM

Good God this is discouraging. And no apparent protest. The paranoid part of me thinks that the people have been carefully conditioned to accept this over a period of many years.

It will be here in NZ within decade too.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/22/2005 07:28:00 PM

The "thuggish" man analogy is a bit childish. I mean it could as likely be a baby faced local bobby following you around.

But I think Genius has hit on the idea, use of the system should be open and accountable.

Posted by Muerk : 12/22/2005 07:31:00 PM

But who watches the watchers?

Power over this system ultimately rests in the hands of a central authority. Checks and balances, like the ones suggested by genius, would limit the potential for misuse, they are not foolproof and would not stop abuse perpetrated by certain types of government.


Posted by Anonymous : 12/22/2005 07:56:00 PM

being able to organise activity (legal or otherwise) without the state being able to easily track you has always been fundamental to society, giving the government this power would be a very very serious step towards a unopposable society

Posted by Anonymous : 12/22/2005 09:30:00 PM

My favourite scifi author is the now somewhat better known than he used to be Venor Vinge. In his pan galactic gargle-blaster novel "A Fire Upon the Deep" he aptly describes "ubiquitous law-enforcement as one of the terminal states of civilisations".

Posted by Anonymous : 12/22/2005 10:19:00 PM

Muerk: I was thinking of your classic fictional KGB tail, as seen in "Cambridge Spies" - or your standard portrayl of the Gestapo, for that matter. Sinister, with a face only a mother could love, and a fetish for bad trenchcoats and hats.

The East German Stasi OTOH preferred to turn everyone into an informer. Again, that was seen as the height of totalitarianism.

Part and parcel of a free society is that people should be left to go about their own business (whatever that may be) without government interference, and that the government needs some justification even to start looking. In the UK, they will effectively be treating every single person as a criminal suspect, or as a parolee. And there will be this presumption that any "unusual" behaviour must be justified to the state (in order to avoid suspicion / "rule you out of our inquiry"), rather than being able to say "fuck off, it's NOYFB".

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/23/2005 01:51:00 AM

The NZ police has in its strategy far more intensive use of cameras for such a purpose, although the infrastructure doesn't exist. The Police already use speed cameras for crime enforcement purposes, to hold records of where vehicles (speeding ones) were at a particular point.

In essence, don't ever trust the Police to make justice policy - they inherently assume everyone is guilty until proven otherwise. Neither Labour nor National give a damn about this

Posted by Libertyscott : 12/23/2005 02:18:00 AM

I'm so glad I don't live in the UK any more..

The media of course help erode our rights by packing the news with "victim journalism" to convince people that they are at a high risk from criminals and any measures are justified to hold back the hoards of evil thugs.

Posted by Rich : 12/23/2005 09:28:00 AM

Genius, if people just said no to this sort of creeping totalitarianism in the first place, your solution/justification would be moot. But aside from the obvious rights issues, this computer technology is likely to encourage lazy policing. Like DNA evidence, when a technology becomes embued with indisputable "certainty" there will be a tendancy to NOT investigate a crime properly or for a jury to see beyond such certainties. My DNA being found at a crime scene does not automatically mean I committed the crime. Likewise, my car being implicated in a crime doesn't mean I was driving it.
I applaud when technology frees the innocent and convicts the guilty, but I fear the unquestioning faith we all seem to have in its results. Face it, it is easy enough to fake computer records and to plant DNA evidence, much harder to dispute these "certainties".

Posted by Anonymous : 12/23/2005 09:49:00 AM


Is it me, or is the future becoming surreal? I feel like I'm beginning to live in the Brave New 1984 World. And yes, you're right, it is the "following" that's the issue.

I'll take freedom with some risk, over Disneyland totalitarianism.

Posted by Muerk : 12/23/2005 11:21:00 AM

I liked what Jim Hopkins said in the latest listener about technology being always ahead of philosophy.
I'm not sure the *intent* of the bobbys in applying the latest technology is bad.. I suspect they're more besotted with the potentials of this new tool.
But like others here, I believe the risks of what is proposed outweigh the benefits.
But the same themes are emerging in every scientific area - personal vs public/societal rights, the willingness of scientists to address the potential harm of the things they rush to invent, and the highjacking of technology by the powerful.
Frankly, I think we're going to need new ways of weighing morality as well as new economic systems if we're to get science/technology back in it's box as a tool of society.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/23/2005 01:52:00 PM

Write boy,

It is not moot because this solution offers BOTH some protection form government AND some protection from criminals etc.

I also disagree about the lazy policing argument - if you make more information available in an easier manner you will fundimentally be able to achieve more with less (I would give an example but I it is hard to do it without sounding facetious). There are probably counter forces in action but I suggest we should be wary of them as opposed to abandoning the solution.

> or for a jury to see beyond such certainties.

Well you are welcome to join me in opposing jury trials - but just preventing them seeing DNA evidence is just going to make it worse, MUCH worse.

Posted by Genius : 12/23/2005 05:54:00 PM

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by Peter Mc : 12/28/2005 12:19:00 PM

The illiberal, anal, suspicious motives of these people aree fortunatley matched on by their inability to run any kind of large scale IT programme successfully. We should still be rioting in the streets about this, though.

Posted by Peter Mc : 12/28/2005 12:21:00 PM