Today in Panopticon News

Bulk License-Plate Scanning by Helicopter

Police in the UK have successfully tested a 160 MPH helicopter that can read license plates from as much as 2,000 feet in the air. The Eurocopter EC135 is equipped with a camera capable of scanning 5 cars every second. Essex Police Inspector Paul Moor told the Daily Star newspaper: "This is all about denying criminals the use of the road. Using a number plate recognition camera from the air means crooks will have nowhere to hide."

The use of Automated Plate Number Recognition (ANPR) is growing. ANPR devices photograph vehicles and then use optical character recognition to extract license plate numbers and match them with any selected databases. The devices use infrared sensors to avoid the need for a flash and to operate in all weather conditions. [...]

UK police also envision a national database that holds time and location data on every vehicle scanned. "This data warehouse would also hold ANPR reads and hits as a further source of vehicle intelligence, providing great benefits to major crime and terrorism enquiries," a Home Office proposal explains.

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24 Responses:

  1. mark242 says:

    It's reassuring to see that the UK thinks as highly of its citizens as the good ol' USA does.

  2. bikerwalla says:

    Good thing they mentioned terrorism somehow. Otherwise this would never pass.

  3. rosefox says:

    This is why I ride the subway.

    Of course, the serial number on my farecard can be easily traced back to either the company that gave it to me or the credit card I used to pay for it....

    • mandil says:

      try riding a bike......with...uh...a mask on...Then nobody is likely to trace you!

      • hawke666 says:

        There are at least 2, possibly 3, people where I live (Population: ~24000) that do just that, though I suspect that the reason has less to do with paranoia than insanity. Perhaps paranoid insanity.

    • vample says:

      This is "why you ride the subway", or that you "just happen to ride the subway" and want to try and point that by doing so, you're doing it to fight the power?

      • rosefox says:

        I very deliberately don't have a driver's license or own a car. I prefer to walk or skate, but for distances, it's public transit all the way.

  4. hastybreaching says:

    *frantically searches for nonreflective IR absorbing paint with which to coat my license plate*

    • usufructer says:

      The lining in triple pane windows supposedly blocks IR but allows normal amounts of visible light through. Perhaps that could be used to cover the plates, like shrinkwrap.

      Ignoring the Orwellian aspects, this system would be really useful for traffic simulations and optomising changes to the current road network.

    • lars_larsen says:

      That would also defeat IR "ladar" guns too. You'd think you could buy a plastic license plate cover that would do this.

      • gadlen says:

        >That would also defeat IR "ladar" guns too.

        Yeah... if you covered your -entire- vehicle with a material that would near perfectly absorb or reflect away the appropriate wavelength of light... 900 nanometers (infrared) seems to be a popular ladar wavelength.

        After your $5,000 mod, you could drive on the highways with total impunity from ladar! But never mind those radar using cops behind the curtain ;-)

        • lars_larsen says:

          When they get you with laser, 99 percent of the light is coming from your license plate. If you dont believe me go shine a laser pointer at the front of a car. The cops are even trained to point the beam at your license plate.

      • hastybreaching says:

        You can, but it's so obviously illegal that some police pull over cars sporting such covers simply on principle.

        Not to mention the covers look as ricey as large bore mufflers, giant flourescent kanji decals and godzilla handlesstupidly large spoilers.

        • lars_larsen says:

          What do they look like? Isn't it just "clear" plastic?

          • hastybreaching says:

            Not the ones I've seen. They look smoked/polarized, or like really crappy sunglasses. They're pretty obvious.

            • lars_larsen says:

              I always wondered if it was legal to use a blue-tinted license plate cover, since the "state use" license plates are all a pastel blue here :)

  5. korgmeister says:

    Whoa! Fascist much?

  6. thesliver says:

    Naturally all criminals and terrorists will cooperate by only using or stealing cars registered in the UK and will refrain from their nefarious acts on foggy days.

  7. wilecoyote says:

    Are we sure that this thing actually works? After all, OCR in computer apps works as well as we all know... Maybe this is just at the same level of those facial recognition programs that several companies were touting after 9/11.

    • chrislightfoot says:

      Numberplate recognition works OK, in fact, because the permitted fonts are regulated in law and the format of the numbers is fixed and known. Plus the Home Office spent big heaps of money on this stuff....

      (The first big law-enforcement application of this was around the City of London during the 1990s IRA bombing campaigns. This worked so well that it's been rolled out more widely and in a variety of applications, of which they best-known is probably the London Congestion Charging Zone. We're going to have averaging speed-cameras based on the same technology all over the place soon, too.)

      I've heard claims that none of this is that new -- supposedly in the 1970s MI5 used to station people on motorway bridges to manually record the numberplates of all traffic passing between London and the Irish Sea ports. I can't find the original source so take this with a pinch of salt, but it's certainly possible -- if a bit labour-intensive.

      • dojothemouse says:

        So are they going to illegalize printing out posters that look like license plates?

        Someone should set up CRTs that cycle through registered plate numbers in front of these cameras.

  8. phoenixredux says:

    Next they'll be doing it here in the good ol' U.S.A.

    It really makes me want to move way up north to some desolate chunk of Canada. You crazy folks can have your privacy invasions and abdicate your civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, but I'll have Nunavut!