Video Surveillance


Town Centre Video Surveillance

The most obvious form of tracking used today is the humble video camera. These were installed to fight crime, a noble pursuit, but that's not all they can be used for. Oh no. Not by a long way.

Camera sites are springing up all over the country in our towns and cities. They watch the streets 24 hours a day. They see everything. They're in high streets, watching the shoppers. They're on our motorways, watching the traffic. They're in car parks, watching the cars. They are everywhere, they see everything.

The reason for their installation was to fight crime. They seem to perform quite well, given the amount of proof we see on television these days. Programmes like Police, Camera, Action and Police Stop make good use of the footage recorded on these cameras. From the excerpts we see, we are to believe that this is all they are used for.

But what if that's not the case? What if the cameras are being used for something else? What if we, as individuals, are targeted by some unknown, unseen group? Should we be worried then? I think so.

Of course, the average citizen has nothing to hide, so why should he be worried. At the moment it may not be a big deal, but what about the future? In the UK we have already said no to national identity cards - is this a method of a government keeping an eye on it's population? Are we destined to become a police state?  Are we already a police state?  Are we too late to stop it?

For example, take Citizen A. He lives 25 miles from where he works. He drives to work every morning. His route takes him along a motorway and then into town, where he parks in a public car park. He then walks 600 yards to his office building.

During his trip he will probably be watched by:

It would be possible for somebody with the right access to watch his journey to and from work almost uninterrupted. His behaviour, from how he adheres to the Highway Code, to whether he opens doors for other people can be observed.

When you walk down your local high street, chances are, you're being watched. Maybe not closely now, but if someone wanted to check, they could. From these cameras, it's very easy to tell where you went, what time you went there and who you were with. In every high street. Now.

Recently, I have been made aware of the presence of video cameras in some places where the ordinary unsuspecting public would probably rather they weren't - public convienences! Allegedly, the system was installed to catch someone defacing the facilities, but I'm sure that's not all they catch.


Speed Limit Enforcement Cameras

New traffic speed enforcement cameras, currently on trial in the UK, electronically record the registration number of speeding vehicles. The registration number of the vehicle and it's speed is then displayed on a panel beside or above the road for all to see. There is nothing to stop this technology being used to record every single vehicle that passes the cameras, speeding or not. I believe that this is already being done. This system will proliferate throughout the country in a matter of just a few years.

The so called ring of steel around London is another good example of how modern crime fighting technology is being used to watch ordinary citizens. On all major routes into and out of London the traffic is watched to see who comes and goes from the nation's capital. Everything is watched.


Traffic Flow Monitoring Cameras

In 1998 Traffic Master, operators of the UK motorway monitoring network, announced they were to install new video equipment that will monitor traffic flow on the UK's roads - known as Passive Target Flow Measurement (PTFM). The system consists of a vast network of infra red imaging cameras watching passing traffic, and monitoring where it is going on the public road network.

The system uses sophisticated optical character recognition (OCR) technology to record the registration plate of vehicles that pass within its view. The camera network tracks the vehicles progress along the motorway network and can be used to tell current traffic flow speed, volume, the speed of individual vehicles and to predict likely trouble spots further ahead.

Trafficmaster say that the cameras do not scan 100% of the traffic passing the detector.   Now, someone please correct me if I'm way off on this but, if you're sampling say, 25% of the traffic and recording their plates, at the next detector you sample 25% of the passing traffic again, but this time, none of the original 25% are scanned for a second time even though they've passed through the section of road, well, wouldn't that make the statistics pretty useless?

This sounds like quite a useful system, but,  what if it's actually recording every car's identity as it passes each camera and will record when and where each vehicle goes, I think it is a step just too far.  Remember, Traffic Master are a private company - do they really need to know where we are all going, when we went, what speed we drove at? I don't think so.

As the UK has no privacy law, I guess that Traffic Master are free to do what they like with this information. How do you feel about that? Where will it end? I think it's time this was changed.

Traffic Master have publicly stated (see The Speedtrap Bible - a highly recommended site anyway) that their licence to operate forces them to delete the recorded data, the central 3 characters of the plate, as soon as they have processed it.   Fine, but how do we know that they're complying with this condition?

My personal opinion is that you're wasting your time unless you're sampling 100%, or near to 100%, of the traffic flow.  Simply taking a random few won't work - how do you find them at the next detector without a 100% sample? 

These detectors, which are tall blue poles with what look like a speaker mounted on them facing oncoming traffic are springing up all over the country on major trunk routes, like the A303 in Wiltshire and A34 in Oxfordshire.  It would seem that motorcyclists will evade the detectors as they have no front mounted plates.

These detectors are mounted on blue poles, so that motorists can easily tell them apart from the Gatso cameras, which are used to enfore speed limits in the UK and many other countries.  

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Last update: 14 September 1998