According to an article in the Independent, British police are to build a new national surveillance system, using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, to fill up a database of all vehicle movements in the UK, which will be retained for two years.
Never mind civil liberties; there's some important opportunities here, especially for corporate giants.
Starting with 35 million number plate 'reads' per day, they intend to move up to 100m reads per day in 5 years' time. Police and security services will be able to use this to track anyone they like. Already thousands of cameras are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to cover "all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts."
Leaving aside the absurd implications for civil liberties (but who cares about common sense or decency in Britain these days...?) there are three points worth making:
- this amazing database would have a lot of other uses, eg in aggregate for tracking traffic patterns to make traffic flows more effective, help design better public transport systems, etc. (See this post about a more limited system in Germany.)
- my earlier speculations about buildng a virtual world in parallel to the real one ( a sort of real-time Google Earth) are coming nearer than I thought..
- according to the Independent, this scheme is going to cost £24 million. A lot of money in one sense, but not much by major corporate standards. How soon before Google offer to run the system for the British police, on condition they can use the data (suitably anonymized) for their GoogleEarth 2.0? Or Amazon, for their Mechanical Turk?