back to article Terror-cops get realtime Congestion Charge database link

British terror-plods will be given real-time access to the massive camera network operated in London to support the Congestion Charge, it has been reported. The city transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), uses 1,500 cameras and Automatic Numberplate Recognition technology (ANPR) to record the number and location of …


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  1. Boris

    Mission Creep

    It looks like mission creep has already occurred since this story broke. According to the beeb web site today, a Home Office document has been "accidentally" released which states that there are plans to use real time access to the camera network for all types of criminal investigation.

    Looks like big brother is finally here.

  2. Tom Peach

    A tough message to any would-be terrorists...

    Ensure you don't use your own car to carry out your terrorist activities.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    slight ommission

    "It was stressed by the Home Office that the TfL data could be used only for national security purposes and not to fight ordinary crime. (Apart, presumably, from the ordinary crime of not paying one's congestion charge.)"

    Given the context of this announcement (we've opened up data that we told you we wouldn't before we started) shouldn't the above contain the words "for now" or "until we think danger is in the air" or "as long as nobody drives into London with petrol, nails and gas in their car"? Oh look, there goes a builder with a dual fuel car...sorry but we'll have to put real time feeds of your data on google maps.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What will this achieve?

    Unless there are going to be hordes of spooks & plods (or more likely low grade 'civil' servants) watching all of the traffic and all of the number plates ALL of the time, this will achieve nothing. Even then it will still be safe for a suicide bomber to drive to his target. Currently the bombers greatest threats are either car jackers or traffic wardens.

    Our home grown terrorists will drive in, park and walk away, or press / release the button. The only time that the 'authorities' will notice anything is after the explosion. THEN the cameras and registration databases will be searched to see where the bombers came from. Afterwards the plods will be able to say 'There they are, they've driven in from the M25 and parked in that street / car park every day for three weeks before the attack. They were obviously planning it.' Well repetitive journeys into the city (any city) are a fact of life for a huge number of workers. Are they now all suspects?

    Should a specific set of people be under surveillance for any reason then that is a specific case for which a court order can be made to use the real time data. Again this is within current law.

    We do NOT need more laws nor do the authorities need more powers "to increase our safety". They need to use the current laws properly. Stop playing politics, start THINKING!

  5. Trevor Watt

    This is all pointless, absolutely pointless

    This will only spot potential bombers in KNOWN vehicles and will not help identify anyone.

    The last successfully bombers hired a car and then took the train. The two cars left in London recently with the barbecue supplies in them were not carrying any markers on the police National Vehicle Database. Nor was the IRA vehicles mentioned in the main story. So how would knowing where and when the vehicle entered the congestion charging zone have helped?

    How is this going to prevent anything, and prevention is the important thing here as successful suicide bombers don't usually end up prosecuted.

    We have already had the thin end of the wedge, this is them starting to knock it home.

    How long before the data is used for some other crime, no doubt justified by it's 'serious' nature?

    I await the 'Nothing to fear then you have nothing to hide' types input on this subject and would like to remind them that that was the phrase of choice of the East German secret police.

    This is all pointless, absolutely pointless. The police will gain nothing from this for counter terrorism, so what is the real purpose?

  6. Jonathan Fitt

    Here it is!

    I wondered what ground those responsible for "security" would grab from this last bungled "terror attack".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another dodgy solution

    Again, as with ID cards, we are offered a solution which doesn't seem to address the problem its intended to solve.

    It's hard to see this as anything other than increasing surveillance for the hell of it.

    You have to marvel as well that the carefully crafted and debated data protection rules designed to protect us can be cast aside - as always in the name of security.

    (I actually typed offered there. Like we get a choice in any of this. Please insert quotation marks around many of words I've used above.)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not enough

    These steps don't go far enough, license plates are only any good to help the "good guys" track cars.

    What we need is a license number for every person, perhaps tatooed on their arms or forehead? This would also help enforce the future curfews, and make it easier to see who is in which labour camp...

  9. Dunstan Vavasour

    Spot on the money

    Lewis, I wish you were standing for election somewhere - I'd vote for you.

    As with any piece of law, or secretary of state's exemption from law, the test is never "it is our intention to ...", or "we must react to the threat of ...". The *only* valid test is an objective assessment of the measure itself. The possibilities of the extension of the use of this data suggested by Lewis must be tested, and if a minister answers "we would not *intend* to use it like that" then the protections are inadequate.

    In fact, I'll forward a link for your article to Boris Johnson (who *does* care about liberty and privacy) - I think, if elected, he should engage you as his security adviser.

  10. Ash

    Something to hide?

    I've been in two minds about the whole "safety" camera issue, which seems to fit in well with this new situation.

    Originally, they should have put up cameras nowhere and developed a different "solution" to the "problem", or they should have put them EVERYWHERE to stop people speeding in the spaces in between the cameras (as we all know we do), and clock watching as you approach one to make sure you're JUST below 33mph in a 30.

    I await the comments telling me just why this is a bad idea.

  11. Stephane Mabille

    National security

    Hopefully "It was stressed by the Home Office that the TfL data could be used only for national security purposes and not to fight ordinary crime. (Apart, presumably, from the ordinary crime of not paying one's congestion charge.)"

    At least in the short term...

    That's very reassuring, so it could only be used to incarcerate you for 90 days without any reason, proof or charge.

    It will not be used to arrest you for 48 hours for a clearly defined crime with some tangible elements...

    Ok, so now that I'm reassured, I can celebrate!

  12. Pete James

    Oh Lewis..... the risk of sounding like a throwaway line from an episode of Morse.....

    I think there needs to be a bit of clarification in some of the article. Firstly, I've always taken the Congestion Charge infrastructure to be cameras positioned at the entrance to the charging zone, not within the area itself as you allude to. There is a difference after all - otherwise how come I can sneek inside at night and drive around in the day without getting a letter from the newt lover?

    Second, the use of CCTV for improper purposes has been going on for some time, and your rather crass attempt at a wake-up call in suggesting such an infrastructure could be used by jealous partners or stalkers is many, many years out of date. I don't doubt for a minute that the use of video technology will expand under the current administration - and I certainly don't like it - but please do try and bang out a reasoned argument instead of coming over all mumsy, eh?

    Third, you guys really do have this obsession with making sneering remarks about the misguided people who attempted to create mayhem. We all know they failed. We all know their idea was pretty rubbish too. But do you really have to mock these people quite so off-handidly?

  13. Graham Marsden

    Err, right...

    So after DNA databases and Biometric Passports, once again Big Brother will be treating us *all* as potential terrorists "for our own protection" and monitoring our every journey on the roads?

    But, tell me, unless they already *knew* the number plates of the vehicles the bungling bombers used, *how* exactly is this going to make any difference?

    Ok, they can figure out where they *came* from, but I would have thought that would have been pretty easy to work out anyway, without risking breaching everyone else's right to "Go about their lawful business without let or hinderance"...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    camper van with a gas stove and a toolbox in it

    "camper van with a gas stove and a toolbox in it"

    Once again, my believe that there are some smart people left in this world, who can see the government PR-BS that was the last “terrrrrorrrr attack” has been reinforced by the good people of El Reg!

    If only more “mainstream” media would see this for it is – a blatant attempt to scare the sheep, in order to curtail more of the already disappearing civil liberties!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are you sure?

    "they could all prevent crimes, frauds or other naughtiness using ANPR" -

    Surely these are all good, sensible uses of ANPR data? I personally would like to live in a society where there is less crime, benefit fraud, and general lawlessness.

    You should be objecting to the MISUSE of ANPR data - using the data for political or personal ends - which is a procedural/legal problem, and not a problem with the data itself - which applies equally to mobile phone records, bank account details, medical details, etc.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    the technically very clever and extremely functional ANPR was developed specifically for the Northern Irish Troubles by a (name withheld) MoD outfit. It then crossed-over into Congestion Charge and is now just functionally creeping back to its original roots! I'm sure it'll rebound back into generic road-pricing eventually, when the Great War on Terror is won, or when more funds are needed, whichever happens first.

    I suppose this just confirms that bicycles are the future

  17. Richard Neill

    The White Rose

    We are in danger of completely stopping civil dissent. That is dangerous in itself; it also deprives people of any ability to commit civil disobedience, which will in turn drive some people to desperate measures. Consider The White Rose ( and ask whether they could exist for 5 minutes in Big Brother Britain.

  18. Matt

    Potential terrorists?

    No you are not potential terrorists, you are all terrorists who have not yet performed your act of terror.

    What they'd really like to do is just to arrest everyone and then let you out after you have been "vetted" and "educated" as to how to live in their "civilised" society.

  19. Marcus

    Debate in Parliament?

    "Mr McNulty said that the home secretary had exempted TfL and the Met terror-plods from certain bits of the 1998 Data Protection Act, which would otherwise have made the scheme illegal."

    When was this debated in Parliament?

    What is to stop Home Office Minister McNulty from introducing other changes to the law without reference to Parliament?

  20. Steve

    @Pete James

    "Third, you guys really do have this obsession with making sneering remarks about the misguided people who attempted to create mayhem. We all know they failed. We all know their idea was pretty rubbish too. But do you really have to mock these people quite so off-handidly?"

    Why the hell not, it was pretty laughable after all. And gentle mocking laughter is sure as hell a better way of dealing with such muppetry than instigating a police state, especially given that it's impossible to legislate against suicide bombers.

  21. Julian

    Home Office gives dunce-bombers a victory after all

    I only noticed one post that mentions that even the weakest threat or scare by terrorists leads to further restrictions and erosion in the freedoms and rights of the general public. Ergo, the terrorists have won.

    Terrorists require only minimal effort to keep their threat alive and disrupt or destroy our cherished way of life.

    As for 'Big Brother', I pity our legacy to our children and grand children. None of the rights and freedoms which we fought for in the Second World War and by opposing communism where the state 'knows' all, etc., and state control was the order of the day with all the accompanying abuses.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bicycle bombers...

    >"I suppose this just confirms that bicycles are the future"

    Couple of gas cans strapped to the sides?

    At least they wouldn't get stuck in the airport doors.

  23. peter

    Old Skool

    RFID number plates are coming soon. Trialed in the UK and implemented in Malaysia and South Africa. They comply with the standards the UK wants to implement where no other techonolog does so.

    Cuts vehicle crime

    Plate is destroyed by removal and in addition tag broadcasts this.

    Cuts speeding and road deaths by time/distance calculation for automatic fine.

    Ensures cars cannot be cut and shut/write offs as plate will be marked invalid on main database

    Stops cloning

    Helps identify criminals

    Provides realtime indicator of traffic flow, average journey times/distances. Location of all vehicles to help reduce insurance

    PAYG road charging easy to implement, cheaply.

    Readers will fit in lamposts, under road, bridges, traffic signs, railings. Anywhere.

    In conjunction with APNR they can identify cars that do not have RFID tags but do have plates and are bypassing the system. Also simple counting methods using exisiting traffic counting strips will narrow down areas untagged cars are "ghosting" compared to number of properly tagged cars.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's a question for your New Labour MP

    Is there any aspect of human life that they don't consider to be a target for surveillance?

  25. Steve

    RE: Here's a question for your New Labour MP

    "Is there any aspect of human life that they don't consider to be a target for surveillance?"

    Answer : Yes. Those aspects of human life which involve members of parliament.

    And possibly there were supposed to be some exceptions for celebrities and the wealthy.

    Other than that, no. Please return to your places of work and continue to conform. Because if you don't, we'll notice.

    Because with all that surveilance data flowing in, the only way we're going to be even remotely able to stay on top of the processing of suspects is to flag behaviour that is atypical.

    What ? No, I'm afraid I can't tell you what that's measured against, National Security, sorry.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re:Not enough

    You forgot you need to further tag people, Cresents for Muslims, upside down Union Flags for political prisoners, etc, I'm sure IBM will help devise a system for the government as they did for the Germans and they'll probably get a better PFI deal too.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And in further news...

    Due to terrorist use of bicycles, legislation is being introduced to compel registration with the DVLA. The introductory registration fee will be set at £100 per year, rising to £250 after 6 months.

    Payments can be made by credit/debit card, over the phone, the internet, or post offices and newsagents carrying the "Tax for Terrorism" sign.

    Enjoy the freedom of the bicycle while you still can folks!

  28. Patrick Ernst

    Here's a thought

    From my Muslim perspective...

    Firstly, I think that those foolish doctors found it psychologically difficult to harm or take life. Their chosen profession implies they save lives. But that is very different from making a political protest, which they did, very effectively as it turns out.

    If you assume that at least part of our decision making is based on our emotions. How do we feel about an event, an outcome or set of circumstances. You lot in Blightly (I'm in Oz) are emotionally charged about some people trying to make incendiaries of cars and of your govt turning you all into criminals. Maybe you can all be deported down here in chains. Weather's lovely and the water's nice :)

    Those doctors and many many Muslims are sick to death of the US/UK/Aust etc justifying military actions which are, definitively killing other Muslims. The bitterness and anger at the actions of these governments is real and palpable. Most of us, somehow, continue to function as law abiding citizens but for some, the emotion can and does push them to make choices they otherwise would not.

    Is this hard to understand? The US emotional reaction to 911 with under 3000 deaths was to refuse extradition negotiations with the Afghani govt AKA the Taliban, bomb the crap out of the place, killing 10k+ and displacing another million people or so. Then on to Iraq.

    So how about you lot in the US and UK go back home, stop killing our people in the name of "liberty" and leave us ignorant Muslims to muddle along as best we can. Deal? Because while you stay in Iraq, Afghanistan and occupy bases in Saudi etc, you will continue to humiliate 1.5 billion people or so and some of those *will* react emotionally, violently. And you will find yourselves with further restrictions as an impotent regime ineffectively tries to plug a breach in a dam, which may become a flood.

    PS: The Nazi regime used to call the French Freedom Fighters terrorists. Makes you wonder about perspective.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    well then me boffins

    You sun-deprived folks with the funny spellings and odd royals need to make LCD license plates. No doubt since I thought of it, somebody with actual skills has already done it.

    tally-ho, pip-pip, bugger off and all that

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