I wrote earlier in the week about the British plans to introduce ID cards. Now, it turns out there is an even more stupid and pointless idea following. This is to use a nationwide network of cameras which can identify car number plates to track the journeys of every car in the country. Data on the time, date and location of each sighting will be stored in a central database. Information will be fed into this from roadside cameras by a secure police communications network.
This data will apparently be used by the police and the security service (MI5) in criminal investigations and anti-terrorism efforts, and to identify cars being used without insurance or road tax.
There are a number of problems with this system. Some of these are the same as the problems with the ID card system. For one, it costs a lot � the government have already allocated �24 million to this. Money which could be put to better use elsewhere.
Let us now look at some of the other problems. There is the potential for abuse. The system is going to be open to police, security services and other government departments. Anyone working for these, as well as anyone who gains access one way or another, has access to the travel patterns of the entire population of the country. If you suspect your wife is cheating on you, its just a simple matter of asking your friend in the police to check that her car actually registers as going to Tesco that night, and not some street the other side of the city, where all the investment bankers live.
Furthermore, there will be an enormous quantity of data relayed by this system. Managing this much data is difficult, and mistakes will be made. Suppose a GPS system fails, and your car is placed near the scene of a murder, at the approximate time it took place. In fact, you were nowhere near the place, but the system never lies, and will be trusted without question. What, then, is your defence?
That somewhat extreme example illustrates just one of the things which can go wrong with such systems. And this is forgetting civil liberties, and the fact that many people object to living under the watchful eye of the government. What does it matter to the government if I was 20 minutes late into work yesterday? Although, I suppose they could track the journey and figure out that it was because of the accident which blocked the road for 15 minutes!
Again, just an example, but no matter how many advantages a system like this has, the disadvantages, security problems and potential for abuse far outweigh any conceivable advantage.
The money being wasted on systems such as this would be better spent tightening security at airports, sea ports, train stations, and other such transport hubs. One excellent way to spend this money would be to improve the training of security staff at these places. Humans are far better at spotting unusual behaviour, or security risks, than automated systems are. With training, the efficiency and security of airports, etc. can be improved significantly, without the risk and public outcry associated with schemes such as ID cards and national road-traffic monitoring!