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Digital speed cameras & mass surveillance

Written By: - Date published: 12:49 pm, June 6th, 2014 - 30 comments
Categories: accountability, capitalism, democracy under attack, Spying, sustainability, telecommunications, transport - Tags: ,

The main NZ news outlets are reporting on the new digital speed cameras about to be progressively installed around the country.  They report it as an improvement that will enable more accurate and efficient recording of people who drive above the speed limit.  They fail to make any mention of the extra capabilities of digital cameras, which could be used for mass surveillance of the population.


Reported on Stuff:

The $10 million project will see 56 digital cameras in place across the country by the end of next year.


Assistant road policing commissioner Dave Cliff said the initial rollout in Auckland and Wellington was a milestone after police announced plans last July to modernise and expand its fixed speed camera network. The current network is almost 20 years old and uses outdated wet-film technology.

The article is all about how this will improve road safety.

Reported on the NZ Herald site:

The 12 sites announced today were a mix of existing and new locations.

“We have consulted with people in those communities directly affected by placement of the cameras, who were all resoundingly supportive of having them in their neighbourhoods to improve road safety,” Mr Cliff said.

Neither of these articles, nor the 3 News, nor the RNZ reports explain exactly how the technologies differ in practice.

An earlier report on Stuff (April 2014) does explain something of the new capabilities.

They will be able to monitor traffic in both directions across as many as six lanes, and to distinguish between vehicles allowed to travel at 100kmh and those, such as trucks, or cars towing trailers, which can travel at only 90kmh.

Images from the digital cameras can be sent by wire over a secure network, unlike traditional cameras, in which the film has to be changed manually.

The new ones use infrared light and have no visible flash. They have two radars – one to identify speeding cars by measuring speed three times in quick succession, and taking the middle speed, and the other to identify the lane the car is in. The radars double-check the speed reading before the camera takes a picture.

As I recall, when the planned use of these digital cameras were first reported on, some Standardistas were concerned that they could be used for mass surveillance.  This is in the context of concerns about the increasing use of invasive mass surveillance technologies by state authorities, for spying on citizens.

Whats wrong with ANPR

What’s wrong with ANPR (Oct 2013) – UK: Privacy Report Blasts Use Of License Plate Cameras.

As in the UK, in the US in February 2014, The Atlantic reported on concerns about being able to digitally record the movement of cars using license plate recognition software.  This is not what will be done with the new digital speed cameras, which will only photograph speeding vehicles.  Nevertheless, it is a step in the direction of increased digitised surveillance of the public.

Firstly the Atlantic article argues that road safety would be better approached by enticing people out of using their cars so much. Then it focused on technologies already in use in many states to track suspicious or criminal activities:

“All of this information is being placed into databases, and is sometimes pooled into regional sharing systems […] All too frequently, these data are retained permanently and shared widely with few or no restrictions on how they can be used.”

The potential for abuse was obvious.


A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told Ars Technica that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “is exploring the ability to obtain access to a National License Plate Recognition database—allowing officers and agents to identify subjects of ongoing criminal investigations.”

The Washington Post got an official response too. “It is important to note that this database would be run by a commercial enterprise,” ICE said, “and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government.” […] A database of our movements that is privately held and accessible to the government is the worst possible combination.

At the very least, the MSM should be reporting on all the implications of the introduction of new digital technologies, and not just repeating the police press releases.  The current context is of increasing digital surveillance of citizens, often as much in the interests of international corporates as in the protection from foreign threats to our physical security.  In such a context, there should be widespread public discussion about the increasing use of digital surveillance of citizens as they go about their daily activities.


30 comments on “Digital speed cameras & mass surveillance”

  1. minarch 2

    Cool, i just bought a new slingshot……

  2. Colonial Viper 3

    Beyond the privacy/surveillance aspects.

    These cameras will all be connected to number plate character recognition systems and the country’s vehicle database.

    If your warrant or rego is out of date when you drive past one of these cameras you will now be automatically fined $200 (or whatever it is) on each count. The infringement notice goes out into the mail to you without having to pass through any human hands.

    • Crashcart 3.1

      That was my primary concern CV. Not so much the rego but whether or not this camera only recorded the details if you are speeding. The fact that it always registers the number plate means there is the ability to use this equipemnt to track peoples movement.

    • karol 3.2

      Do you have any sources that show in NZ, the digital speed cameras will also check for vehicles without a current WOF or registration?

      • Colonial Viper 3.2.1

        Just my contacts in Dunedin who have seen the system being set up down here. I don’t know if it is part of the system’s initial capabilities, but it is part of the roll out plan.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.3.1

        Most likely to be illegal same as at present it’s illegal to put on plastic covers that prevent cameras from taking an accurate picture of your number plate. Especially considering that the only purpose of such things is to help you break the law.

    • Dumrse 3.4

      Conspiracy, the theory to use when all else fails.

      • felix 3.4.1

        Eh? What conspiracy?

      • Murray Olsen 3.4.2

        This is not theory, though. These things are being rolled out. They will have the capability of taking photos of every car, even if that isn’t used in the beginning. Years of experience tell us that a government enforcement agency does not let technical capabilities sit unused.

        Your pseudonym is very apt.

  3. vto 4

    only deal is to log off.

    no fancy phone

    only use cash (its quicker and easier anyway).

    In fact the promotion of phones as some betterment is a joke (who wants work arriving on their plate at all hours of the day and night and in all locations? Eh?). And similarly with paymet with cards – always always slower.

    but, you know, if you want to have your life recorded for the future fascists to trawl through before they knock on your door in their jackboots then go right ahead ……

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      only deal is to log off.

      Yep…going off grid…or as the intel services call it…going dark.

      • Richard Christie 4.1.1

        only deal is to log off.
        going dark.

        hmm, soon, I suspect, in their mind that in itself will be very suspicious, justifiable cause for Her Majesty’s services to mark you for special attention.

        They appear to have an insatiable desire for total surveillance.

    • weka 4.2

      “but, you know, if you want to have your life recorded for the future fascists to trawl through before they knock on your door in their jackboots then go right ahead ……”

      Better get off the internet too 😉

  4. Naki man 5

    This is great news for law abiding citizens, more tracking of criminal activity. Less criminal scum on the streets. Bring it on.

    • Richard Christie 5.1

      Yes, I expect it’ll be heaven for the grammatically challenged as well.

      The term is fewer, not less.

  5. “Less criminal scum on the streets.”

    You must have posted in the wrong thread, this is about speeders, not Banksy.

    • Naki man 6.1

      “Less criminal scum on the streets.”
      You must have posted in the wrong thread, this is about speeders, not Banksy.
      No Meat head the post is about speed cameras and surveillance you need some of labours night classes on reading and comprehension.

  6. Daveosaurus 7

    Quite aside from all the rights and wrongs of what they’re doing – do you mean to say they’ve still been using film while most of the rest of the world has long gone digital? That’s at about the same level as if their police cars were still rolling around on cross-ply tyres.

    Anyway, even the current Government (when in opposition) acknowledged that all that speed cameras are about is revenue-gathering.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Anyway, even the current Government (when in opposition) acknowledged that all that speed cameras are about is revenue-gathering.

      Well, that’s what they called it – probably because them and their rich mates were getting caught speeding by them. Of course, if no one was breaking the law by speeding they wouldn’t be able to generate any revenue.

  7. Hi,

    We wrote to the Police asking them if they were going to use these new red light and speed cameras to do automated number plate recognition. They replied and, as of 1st August 2013, denied it. Check out our questions and their response here: https://fyi.org.nz/request/1007-do-the-new-red-light-and-speed-cameras-support-anpr

    There’s also some more background about Police use of ANPR in NZ here: http://techliberty.org.nz/police-confirm-theyre-not-keeping-anpr-data/

    About time we sent an update question to make sure those answers are still valid!


    Thomas Beagle
    Tech Liberty NZ

    • karol 8.1

      Thanks, Thomas. I’d be very interested in their answer.

      3 News tonight reported that the digital speed cameras wouldn’t be used for the kind of things done in Perth: to identify people talking on mobiles while driving, etc.

      • Naki man 8.1.1

        Yes I saw that karol they said our camera’s are not capable of focusing on mobiles and seatbelts.

  8. RedBaronCV 9

    Funny how the Dunedin city council which has huge bills from the Stadium can afford one of these surveillance systems.
    Funny how the cops can afford these surveillance systems and 72 people to raid Dotcom and a big presence outside NACT functions but can’t be bovvered with the roast busters or enforcing protection orders (in dunedin).
    Funny how it seems that at least a part of our road toll is from right hand driving countries. Are these cameras going to shout at anyone on the wrong side of the road.
    And our forestry which kills how many? Some surveillance cameras on the bosses might be a good idea.

    • Murray Olsen 9.1

      Given the foreign criminals that National ministers associate with, surveillance cameras at Cabinet Club events would be a great idea. After all, if they’ve got nothing to hide……..

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