Written By: - Date published: 12:49 pm, June 6th, 2014 - 30 comments
Categories: accountability, capitalism, democracy under attack, Spying, sustainability, telecommunications, transport - Tags: digital speed cameras, Surveillance state
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.
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 The current network is almost 20 years old and uses outdated wet-film technology.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.
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.
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.
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.