New UK vehicle mass surveillance database and 1984 Action Day

1984
8th June is 1984 Action Day Image by No CCV
8th June is 1984 Action Day

UK roads mass surveillance database contract awarded to subsidiary of arms manufacturer involved in fraud prosecution. What could possibly go wrong? If only there was a day of action against such things…

For almost a decade UK police have been operating a vehicle mass surveillance system that stores the details of vehicle movements in a centralised police database for at least two years [1].

Now the police/Home Office have decided to replace the database and data mining tools behind the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera mass surveillance network. The contract has been awarded to SELEX ES in partnership with Sungard Availability Services [2]. More on SELEX in a moment. The new database system, called the National ANPR Service (NAS), will be hosted on the goverment’s G-Cloud cloud computing platform [3] (which, by the way, forms part of a technology obsessed restructuring of government that was started by previous UK governments, at least dating back to the sinisterly named Transformational Government Strategy of 2005 [4]).

The current controversial [5] UK number plate surveillance system stores the details of all vehicles that pass the cameras for two years. The police now claim that this isn’t long enough [6] and that the data mining tools that allow searches on the details of car movements aren’t powerful enough for them.

It has emerged that during the 2012 Olympics the Metropolitan Police ran their own ANPR database and data mining tools, known as the Olympic Data Feed [7]. The Met say that: “During the Olympics new ANPR tactics were developed” using “better software than was available on NADC [the National ANPR Data Centre]”. When the Olympics finished the Met Police were so chuffed with their new surveillance toy that they refused to switch it off and have said they will only do so if the new National ANPR Service (NAS) is up to their particular standards of spying.

The system used by the police up to this point has consisted of local databases for each police force and a shared national database. The new system will do away with the local police databases and just run one uber national system [8]. The local systems were supplied by Northgate Public Services Ltd (now owned by private equity group Cinven [9]) who say of their ANPR software [10]:

“Every day, police forces across the country capture vast amounts of data on vehicle movements, but most of it is never analysed. By analysing the 98% of data that you don’t currently use, you can turn CONNECT:ANPR into a critical source of intelligence for proactive policing.”

Appallingly more than powerful enough surely, but Northgate are talking about the system that the Met police don’t think is up to the job of spying on motorists.

The new National ANPR Service (NAS) is being switched on in phases this year, though we’re not really sure when. There have been no formal announcements about any of the above by the police or the Home Office. However SELEX, one of the companies awarded the contract, issued a press release in September boasting of the millions of dollars they stand to trouser [11].

So who are SELEX? Well, SELEX is part of the arms industry giant Finmeccanica. Finmeccanica also own Remmington ELSAG who run number plate surveillance cameras in North America [12]. Another part of Finmeccanica is their UK-based subsidiary AgustaWestland who in 2013 won a contract to sell helicopters to the Indian Air Force that became mired in controversy due to bribery [13]. You may remember the Westland helicopter company from the 1980s Westland Crisis that almost led to the downfall of the British government [14]. This year two former Finmeccanica bosses were sentenced to four years in prison [15] for their roles in the recent scandal. To read more about the many surveillance and military projects that Finmeccanica are involved with see the excellent Statewatch/Transnational Institute “Neoconopticon” project [16]. By the way, Finmeccanica has recently changed its name to Leonardo-Finmeccanica and in 2017 will change its name to Leonardo [17].

The awarding of public sector contracts like the ANPR database to military industrial complex companies like Finmeccanica is part of what Stephen Graham describes [18] as “the startling militarization of civil society” by way of “the extension of military ideas of tracking, identification and targeting into the quotidian spaces and circulations of everyday life”.

Graham writes of such projects:

in a world marked by globalization and increasing urbanization, they represent dramatic attempts to translate longstanding military dreams of high-tech omniscience and rationality into the governance of urban civil society.

The massive increase of police surveillance capabilities that is this new National ANPR Service has gone unnoticed by the mainstream media and has not been debated in public or in parliament. Meanwhile most of the UK public is unaware of the capabilities of even the first generation ANPR system – what has been dubbed as the biggest mass surveillance network that no-one’s ever heard of.

8th June is the anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ and a day for people to take action against mass surveillance [19]. 1984 Action Day is purposefully not prescriptive, it is about people as individuals just doing what they can to mark the day.

It’s time to start speaking out against this covert and insidious destruction of our basic inalienable right to be let alone.

Endnotes:

http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/1984.asp

Charles Farrier
Follow Me

Charles Farrier

The UK is the most spied upon nation in the world - why doesn't it have the lowest crime rate?
Charles Farrier
Follow Me