Montreal, October 11, 2003  /  No 130  
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville, Quebec.
by Ralph Maddocks
          A couple of months ago, I mentioned RFID chips, and their potential for becoming something of a nightmare for those wishing to preserve their privacy (see RFID: RECEIVING YOU LOUD AND CLEAR, le QL, no 127). The emerging World Police State seems to be jumping into this technology with both feet. The EU is proposing a satellite road tolling system using Galileo, the European Space Agency's satellite-based global navigation system, comparable to the GPS and the GLONASS systems run from the United States. Galileo is set to be fully operational in 2008, although initial launches are scheduled to begin as soon as next year. The primary use of the EU's £4bn ($9 billion Cdn) Galileo satellite will be to track trucks and cars and bill their owners for road usage.
          The UK, according to a document released by its very own totalitarian government, expect to have personalised microchips on every vehicle by the year 2007, which is not all that far away. Those who like to believe that Mr. Blair's Cool Britannia is not totalitarian should answer for themselves the questions posed on the UK Liberty website such as: Why do nearly 1000 different public authorities have the power to keep you under covert surveillance, without proper scrutiny? Why does the Government want to share more of your personal data between thousands of bureaucrats, without your knowledge or consent? Why should your local council be able to read your telephone or e-mail records? Why do we have more CCTV cameras than almost anyone in the world – and yet no adequate law to regulate and make sure it's not misused? 
          Returning to the chip, each one would contain the registered owners' name and address, MOT (Ministry of Transport's roadworthiness certificate) status, details of insurance, registration number, make of vehicle and colour, tax status, and MUCH, MUCH, More!, as advertisers might phrase it. Roadside scanners would be used to monitor passing vehicles and enable the police to collect unprecedented amounts of information about everyone's movements. This computer bank will be linked ultimately with the EU which has a plan to track all vehicles within the EU all the time.  
          Part of the plan calls for the system to calculate speeds between any two roadside detectors and automatically issue summonses or fines for any infraction of the speed limit. This will be possible 24 hours a day anywhere in the UK, and ultimately in the whole of the EU. The result of this will be, if not frustrated by an angry citizenry which has already begun to destroy some cameras, that almost every driver in the country will likely have acquired the requisite 12 points resulting in a driving ban within a matter of a few weeks. Apart from the aspect of personal freedom and liberty, this should be just about the best scheme one could imagine if one wished to damage a country's economy or even bring about its total collapse. 
          Since there would be nothing to indicate that you had committed an offence, the first thing you would know about it would be a series of official envelopes arriving in the mailbox informing you that you had committed various traffic offences. Perhaps that you had exceeded the speed limit by 5 mph on your way to work, perhaps you made an illegal U-Turn or accidentally veered into a bus lane, or then perhaps you did not come to a complete stop at a Stop sign. Perhaps you will learn that your MOT certificate ran out last week, or that you drove too close to the car in front of you. However aggrieved you may feel, the result will be that you will be asked yet again to transfer more of your hard earned after-tax money to the government for offences which you may well have been totally unaware that you had committed. No camera flashed, no policeman chased after you with red lights flashing and siren blaring, just the information on an invisible chip, hidden somewhere in your car, being picked up by radio waves which monitor every move you make.  
The ultimate surveillance system 
          The planned chip, which is being dubbed the "Spy in the Dashboard" and "The Informer," will automatically report on a wide range of offences including speeding, vehicle tax evasion and illegal parking. Those working on the "car tagging" plan (one notes the subtle change in nomenclature, we all know what a chip is but a tag seems somehow more innocuous) say it would also help to slash car theft and even drug smuggling. Well they would wouldn't they?  
          The concept is causing outrage among the civil liberties groups who perceive the electronic vehicle identification (EVI) programme not only as draconian, but as a gross infringement of human rights. Motorists already supply one tenth of all UK government revenue – some £38 billion ($80 + billion Cdn) – and because most UK citizens value their freedom so highly, a freedom exemplified by their desire to travel by car – they will continue to pay even in the face of over-regulation and their exorbitant fuel prices. 
          I mentioned in a much earlier article that the UK was plagued with an overabundance of cameras for detecting cars exceeding the speed limit as well as for facial recognition (see HAVE ORWELL'S PREDICTIONS COME TRUE?, le QL, no 28). This obsession with speed cameras in the UK has, as could be expected, produced some unintended consequences. Cameras cannot see careless driving or overloading of trucks and prosecutions for these offences have declined sharply in recent years. Recently the Manchester Police force took officers away from traffic duties and found that not only did burglaries and muggings fall by 18% – but road deaths fell 5% too! Reliance on cameras has also enabled police forces to be reduced which has done nothing to improve crime clear up rates. In fact, North Wales, under its intrepid Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, a man who has promised to deliver "zero tolerance" when it comes to speeding offences, caught 32,333 speeding drivers just between April and August of this year. Although they will probably not be fined, even area firefighters rushing to emergencies are being sent speeding notices after being caught on police cameras! 
          Similarly the area ambulance service drivers are said to be unhappy that they can pick up to 20 speeding tickets in one day. A spokesperson for North Wales Police said that officers make informed decisions at the scene and if tickets are issued then the service involved had to prove that the vehicles were responding to an emergency.  
          However, Brunstrom brushes off all questions about why his force has only a 6% clear up rate for burglaries which compares to an FBI clear-up rate for burglaries of 24.9% and a national UK rate of 18%. Another of his critics, Chris Hughes, the Mayor of Colwyn Bay, a town which has a major drugs problem, said, "A crime is a crime and if I'm speeding and I'm caught, that's my own fault. But I would like equal importance to be given by the chief constable to other crimes, such as mugging, robberies and drugs. I don't think that's happening."  
          Normal, sensible road users now spend much of their time slowing down sharply immediately upon sighting one of these yellow perils which in turn causes other road users to take evasive action. Once they spot one of these devices the driver then looks in the rearview mirror for the yellow flash which indicates that they have indeed been caught. Once these chips will be in use this effect will no longer be apparent, one simply will not know whether one has offended or not. 
Into The Lens 
          Cameras are being used to detect vehicles entering an area such as central London where a congestion charge is exacted. These types of cameras use a technology known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). An interesting side effect of this attempt to reduce congestion has been that while it has reduced traffic it has also decreased markedly the sales of establishments within the congestion area, an effect not being met by the plaudits of the store owning fraternity. There is now talk of a 20mph limit throughout London which will doubtless increase the amount collected in fines even more. 
     « A report commissioned earlier from a UK consulting company by the Department for Transport, identified six types of technology from bar-codes to radio chips and even mini-satellite transmitters that could be used for EVI, electronic vehicle identification. »
          Even among those who are less worried about yet one more manifestation of "Big Brother" are upset, and one well known UK Radio DJ, Tony Blackburn, asked: "What are they going to do next? Start putting chips in people to make sure we are eating properly?" Thereby, unconsciously perhaps, introducing a new meaning to the ubiquitous British comfort food, Fish 'n Chips. 
          The impetus for this intrusive measure appears to be coming, at least at present, mainly from the police themselves and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and is being co-ordinated by the Department for Transport. The initial feasibility study apparently pointed out some 47 possible applications for this EVI project: among them tracking terrorist suspects (always play to current concerns), drug smugglers and car thieves. An estimated 26% of all crime is vehicle related and it is further estimated that 30% of the vehicles stolen are never recovered. The police would simply type in the electronic ID number of a car, wait until it passed one of the roadside sensors and then dispatch someone to pick up the perpetrator. All very neat and simple. They even claim that installation of this technology would not be very difficult since many of the chip readers could be sited where the ubiquitous speed cameras are already installed. 
          Another claim being made is one that appeals to those drivers who insure their cars, it being claimed that the 10% of uninsured drivers, who push up premiums by some £30 ($67 Cdn) a year for everyone else, would be identified quickly by means of these chips. Similarly, dangerous cars without MOTs would be forced off the roads. The motoring organisations believe that this is a high price to pay for the thousands of drivers who would be ensnared daily for relatively minor offences. Already they claim that many speed cameras, a somewhat less ruthless device than the EVI chip, are simply a tool for raising money, a conclusion hard to avoid. 
          Throughout the debate raging about the benefits and drawbacks of this, Mr. Blair's government is quietly laying the technological groundwork for the scheme. A report commissioned earlier from a UK consulting company by the Department for Transport, identified six types of technology from bar-codes to radio chips and even mini-satellite transmitters that could be used for EVI. They agreed too that all but the most sophisticated in-car technology would require roadside sensors, the networks for which have already been set up by traffic-monitoring companies and the Highways Agency on major routes. 
          Some time ago, in June this year, the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, admitted that he was seriously considering introducing tolls on all major roads after 2010 – conveniently well after the next election – and that people could be tracked and charged by satellite. However, according to those involved in the EVI project, road pricing is a very small part of a much more intrusive agenda. Mr. Blair et al, having their attention elsewhere at the moment, are not campaigning openly for their scheme and it will doubtless be introduced secretively and its employment begun when it is too late for the citizenry to do much about it. 

Of chips, cards & tags 
          The Transport Research Laboratory, which tested the various technologies proposed, thinks that electronic chips, or tags, embedded in the chassis are the simplest and most secure, and this would be something that the manufacturers could do very easily in their new vehicles. An alternate idea is to equip all of Britain's 37.5 million licensed vehicle number plates with chips, at an estimated cost per vehicle of £5 ($11.15 Cdn). This would be mainly offset within a year or two by the reclamation of the £185 million ($413 million Cdn) now lost in unpaid vehicle excise duties.  
          When the first fixed speed cameras were introduced in Britain in 1992 their numbers grew quite slowly in the beginning. However, in April 2000 the government introduced the Safety Camera Partnership pilot scheme, with eight police forces being allowed to keep the revenue from fines to fund more speed cameras and road safety projects. This latter measure has led to the British motorist becoming an abused species and a perpetual source of easy revenue. The most stringent application of the speeding laws has led to the "zero tolerance" concept noted above making its appearance. It is obvious that the government believes itself to have found a virtually effortless source of revenue, target the motorists in the name of safety and few will object. It is also of interest that some 8,160 people were killed on French roads in 2001, compared to Britain's average of 3,400. Given the virtually identical populations of the two countries it would seem that the French are a great deal more sanguine about these things. 
          Just in case anyone is thinking that adding chips to vehicles is the only function being considered by the UK government then you should know that the Home Office – which has not forgotten about its proposed ID card – is holding discussions with mobile phone firms, computer companies and boat manufacturers about implanting chips in their units too. Perhaps the driving force behind this renewed interest is related to a recent event where someone was able to open a bank account and get a driving licence in the name of the Home Secretary himself! Indeed, a letter from the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to the Deputy Prime Minister, which was leaked to the press, reveals that he has decided to push forward with his national ID card for all Britons over 16. The cards will be mandatory and each card will contain biometric information and cost each person £39 ($87 Cdn). A central database of personal information will be set up at the same time, to assist in the tracking process no doubt. The Home Office though says that the trial which it is to run this fall in a small market town, is really to assess the "credit card" style passport which is to be introduced by 2006. Quietly, around the country, schools are being encouraged to issue ID cards to pupils, presumably part of the campaign to soften everyone up for the full scheme.  
          Legal opinion has it that an ID card trial cannot be run before the enabling legislation has been introduced. This would explain why the trial is now alleged to be for a new passport which does not require legislative approval. A Home Office spokesman said that the pilot scheme was "...a testing process for facial recognition for one-to-one verification using iris and fingerprint biometrics." A distinction which persuaded nobody that it is not really the precursor to the threatened ID card. 
          The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said that the development of RFID tags has sinister potential and must be watched closely. She added that with speed cameras and CCTV monitors all over the country, and now smart tags, Britain was becoming "the surveillance capital of Europe." She concluded by saying that Liberty will monitor the use of the tags in stores to ensure that the privacy of individuals is not being infringed. Miss Chakrabarti's organisation is planning to monitor the use of these RFID devices in stores, and retailers using microchips in products to track customers are facing legal challenges from freedom campaigners anxious to curb the abuse of this latest example of "Big Brother" technology.  
          A real market opportunity is developing for anyone who can invent a small, low cost, pocket sized "zapper" to destroy, or at least to interfere with, the signalling ability of these soon to become ubiquitous tags. I suppose though, that like other devices which could be used to protect the honest citizenry from personal harm – Mace, Tasers or handguns – the UK's political masters will find ways to make them illegal too, or at least available to be used only by the criminal classes. A solution which politicians in the UK and elsewhere seem to prefer. 
Previous articles by Ralph Maddocks

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