Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Automatic Number Plate Recognition

ANPR is a technology that enables police and security services to track vehicle movements throughout the United Kingdom, (see Hansard). In June this year there were 1,140 cameras on the motorway and an undisclosed number of mobile units. There are many benign uses such as Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) enforcement and traffic management (such as computing average journey times for a section of motorway). This is clearly a useful tool for the tracking of suspects in serious crime and terrorism and for this reason the data is held in a searchable form for a period of two years. The danger comes when data mining techniques are used to trawl for unusual patterns of movement amongst the entire population. The infrastructure is already in place, all that is need is a good justification - fear of an external threat usually works.

Here is a good description of ANPR technology which lends credence to a trick I learnt when living in France. To thwart speed cameras, my neighbours would apply a thin film of olive oil to the surface of their number plates. (Extra virgin, of course.)

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