I thought this was interesting; Britain has plans to use a network of cameras to automatically track movements of vehicles on most of its major roads.
The plan is to position cameras along streets and highways that will be tied to computers that can read license plate numbers from passing vehicles. That information is immediately cross-referenced with a police database of plates registered to people suspected of breaking the law.
… a “textbook” example of how the system works occurred Nov. 24, when police were parked on the shoulder of the A13 highway 20 miles east of London. Their van had a camera to scan passing license plates and computer equipment to check for numbers linked to criminal suspects. … two seconds after a 1998 Volvo station wagon passed, the computer’s alert system announced: “Attention: no insurance.” Having no insurance is a crime in England, and Moor, who was in the van, radioed to officers down the road. When they tried to pull over the Volvo, it sped away. The officers pursued it. Ultimately, six police cars converged on the Volvo, and officers found a bag containing $180,000 worth of heroin.
Wow! That’s an impressive example, but its pretty obvious that such a system could be used for a lot more than just catching known bad guys. What about tracking everyday traffic for minor violations? Looks like that’s just around the corner as well; a British company is producing a set of “Intelligent Road Studs”: There is the camera stud which has a high-definition camera inside a heavy-duty road stud, which can provide high-def still or moving images of oncoming or departing vehicles, and can be used in automatic number plate recognition systems. Combine that with the detection stud, which calculates vehicle speed, vehicle length, and number of axles, and a system similar to a stoplight camera could be built to keep an eye on all the traffic all the time on all the roads, mailing out tickets to offenders automatically. You won’t be able to get away with anything.
That level of Big Brother is just a little spooky. And to further scare the conspiracy theorists out there, the system could be used to track your wherabouts all the time; if the cameras are watching and reading license plates, how difficult would it be to expand the system to include a database of where your car was at a given time, what route you took to get there, and whether you committed any traffic violations enroute?
And since it’s just data, it could be stored indefinitely and used to build a profile of your driving habits; those with a tendency to drive a little fast can be watched a little more closely, or friendly reminders sent out periodically to let you know that you’re being watched. And if the insurance companies got their hands on that data, they could eve charge you according to your compliance with traffic laws.
I better quit speculating before I get myself in trouble. Or give anybody any ideas. Or maybe it’s too late.