back to article TrafficMaster sells clients' location info to

Noted UK news brand the Daily Mail served up a somewhat error-speckled tech scoop last night, with news that a government "'spy in the sky' system" is involved in a "secret 'Big Brother' operation... allowing officials to pinpoint the exact location of thousands of vehicles". It emerged that the Mail scribes were talking …


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  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. peter

    Or just an e-plate

    RFID tag in an e-plate with a tamper proof design (plate shatters on removal) RFID readers from 100m up to 300mph and ANPR gives a system that can see any car without an e-plate amongst those who do, work out the very simple equation of time/distance for speeding offences, provide all data in an accident investigation, track untaxed vehicles, uninsured vehicles, stolen vehicles. Perhaps a charge for insurance agencies asking for data, tracking for company cars all kinds of data. Real time traffic flow monitoring by every single vehicle and average speed, accidents maybe even diversion/road closure/accident info sent to all vehicles in range?

    Around £60 ? for the plate and less £ for readers in already expensive street furniture such as streetlamps say 1% of cost. Calw back money from insurance agencies and firms wanting to monitor their fleet, traffic info down to each induvidual vehicle and t's speed (algorythum (sic) to work out where jams are based over empty road trials and a simple comparison bult over months of 24hr data including rush hours).

    Charging for road usage, alerts for the police over any vehicle without a number plate (obvious) any vehicle trying to hide in a flock through ANPR is spotted as a flase read, or simple induction loops to check number of vehicles vs number of eplates and send out a car to to count and remove those who are legal (as in all legal with tax, insurance, mot, no warrents, tickets or speeding).

    Wow, a rant and a half, i should say e-plates with RFID readers built into every lampost at manufacture and the existing ANPR system extended to catch the low percentage who are breaking the law would cover itself through fines, data sales, and road tax alone. Also traffic modelling could reduce the UK carbon footprint with that much data.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets Not Stop There

    Lets fit an RFID chip to everyone, a reader in every lamppost just in case we might be in the vicinity of a crime being or have been committed.

    Ticket out of here please.....

  4. Anthony Bathgate


    Or I can RFID clone some other sap's car. Or start burning street lamps. Or do what the Americans do and shear them off their poles and sell them for scrap.

  5. Dunstan Vavasour

    Simpler to just triangulate the mobile phones

    This information is already collected, albeit voluntarily, from anyone who leaves their mobile switched on while driving. I thought a while ago that Trafficmaster were supposed to be getting anonymised information from the phone companies to help with identifying traffic jams?

    O2 already know how fast my car goes up and down the M1 (the road is only parallel to the railway a short distance). Yes, the trafficmaster system is GPS driven which makes it more accurate, but the information is already out there. Of course, I could always switch my phone off, but fortunately the M1 hasn't become a punishment zone yet (see )

  6. The Cube

    Nationwide realtime ANPR joined up with in-car GPS?

    Odd that you should say that. Nationwide ANPR is already underway, the plod seem to be massively in favour of anything that means less real police work and more expensive outsource contracts.

    Oh, and all those digital 'speed cameras', I know that a certain UK police farce, a decade ago, routinely stored (in tape vaults back then) an image of every vehicle passing the 'speed camera'. They are in fact bulk surveillance devices and most new ones are already equipped with ANPR in order to identify the same vehicle between cameras so they can nick you for average speed. As the locations of all those digital cash/surveillance machines that already infest most motorways and A roads are, of course, known already we already have a nationwide ANPR. Remember that every digitally issued speeding fine is a 'solved crime' for your local chief constable and think how much easier that is than arresting the scumbag who broke into your house.

    Also bear in mind that each of these digital 'speed cameras' now takes a front on photo and every chief plod in the country, along with our Jack Booted 'Justice Minister' is after facial recognition software. Once you put that together you can be tracked by all those CCTV cameras the council have put up 'for your protection and safety' whether in your car or out of it. Now if only there were some database that had your picture and a record of your car on it. Thanks to the good work of the EU all of this data can be shared with any other European police force so don't think getting on the ferry or plane will help you any, and of course if you book travel to the US our government will send them everything we have down to your medical records from the Identity and Passport service.

    You already live in a surveillance society and no you can't demonstrate against it outside the houses of parliament because then you are a terrorist and the Met will break into your house at 5 in the morning and 'accidentally' shoot you because their NBC gloves are too thick (not the officers of course) to handle an MP5 properly.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    By "shatters on removal", I assume you mean that either

    a) you can't remove the RFID chip from the plate without shattering it, in which case just nick the plates off someone with a car very much like yours, and replace them with fakes - sure, next time your victim goes for a drive they'll have trouble, but that is why you picked a car in a long term car park ;)

    b) you can't remove the plate from the car without shattering it (in which case just zap it with a microwave - the RFID now doesn't work. A bit of artful mud splattering and / or plate cloning to knacker the ANPR and you are home free, because there are only 3 traffic police left in the country that haven't been replaced by cameras.

    Assuming they have a decent number of actual humans to track down the offending tagless vehicles, I propose doing your stealthy journey at rush hour and meeting in London, having gone round destroying as many RFID tags as humanly possible over a long weekend on a bike. How many cars can you realistically stop and search on the M25? Especially if they all have valid number plates for the make/model/colour of vehicle?

    It would be a monumentally expensive, insanely complicated plan for the government to implement, without actually gaining anything. Want to travel covertly? Get on a push bike, go to a truck depot and bribe the driver heading in the right direction. Want to make a car bomb? Have a totally legit vehicle, fill it with explosives, and drive peacefully and calmly, obeying the highway code, to your target. Is it really worth the effort to round up all the people doing 1mph over the limit?

  8. Mr Fuzzy

    TrafficMaster ANPR

    The network of ANPR cameras used by TrafficMaster has been knocking around for donkeys years. Their system, however, only retains an OCRed version of numberplates which pass by for time/distance calculations, not full images.

    Covering a number plate may or may not work dependent on the materials used as the cameras themselves work in the IR range and have their own integrated lamps.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I thought Trafficmaster already did ANPR with their blue poles to work out average road speeds?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Title (a little off topic)

    Or, the government could just do what they have done everywhere else in the world and have zones on each road, crossing into the next costs a certain amount. You then have a 'pay by cash' lane and a 'I don't wear tinfoil hats - pay by transponder lane.' (As a side note, I'd be well in the cash paying tinfoil hat wearing paranoia lane.)

    That way they also don't have to deal with the embarrassment of another big Government (sh)IT(e) project.

  11. David

    Data protection

    Whatever happened to the 1998 Data Protection Act? Seems there are all sorts of loopholes that allow information to be passed on. I may have commented before on the despicable act, in my opinion, of DVLC being allowed to sell names and addresses of people, on supply of a vehicle registration number, who have encountered and fallen foul of so-called "civil parking enforcement" companies, to said companies, who then proceed to harass for payment of an alleged "civil parking infringement" (usually some poor soul who has accidentally over-stayed their time in a private company car park, despite being a customer). I speak from experience. It also appears (from information given to me by the Information Commissioner`s Office), that if someone suspects that legal proceedings are likely to follow (to follow what?), that gives them carte blanche to disclose anything to anybody. Just how does someone form that opinion without legal training or advice? That appears to leave a massive loophole:

    "Yes, yer `onour, I disclosed his name and address to all and sundry, `koz I thought that there might just possibly be a teensy weensy legal angle involved".

    Well, THAT`S alright, then.

    I rest my case, your worships!!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not so easy to block GPS

    I'm currently designing/researching GPS systems for marine use, and I recently came across these test reports for a readily available GPS system-on-a-chip; and

    These days is is entirely practical to build an entire GPS-based road pricing unit into a vehicle ECU, without an external antenna. This would still work and receive signals when mounted inside the vehicle. As the system would be tied into the cars electrics and have an on-board gyroscope, it would continue to track with a fair degree of accuracy even if the GPS signal is lost; eg due to a local jamming signal.

    You could also guarantee that ANPR records would be routinely checked against those generated by the 'black boxes', and any mismatch (ANPR reporting a car where the GPS says it wasn't, or vice-versa) would be investigated.

    As for the cost, remember that the multi-hundred pound price discussed above is the SALE PRICE of a low-volume commercial product- remember that there are about 30M cars in the UK so any national scheme would have massive economies of scale, and would encourage further 'innovation' technologically- these 'unblockable' GPS systems are already being marketed as 'ideal for road pricing'.

    It's a brave new world...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The revelations will fuel concerns that Britain is turning into a surveillance society."

    How long ago did you make such a statement ?

    Some of us here may be old enough to remember a time when we thought "1984" was the worst it could get .......... happy days.

    What happens when all the sane people have left the UK ?

  14. Trevor Watt

    Just by a car abroad in eurpoe

    And drive it round with no tax, insurance, registered address etc. for as long as you can get away with it, then repeat.

    Works for all the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians etc. round here anyway. You park where you like, ignore speed cameras, are immune to ANPR checkpoints etc. because there is no address for tickets etc. SORTED!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So you've taken a Daily Mail story design to cause rabid hysteria in the more right wing elements of pensioner society and recycled it for the easily paranoid/conspiracy theorist section of Reg readers.

    Judging by some of the comments already posted, you've done just as good a job as the Mail with this non-story.

  16. Tom Hawkins

    what does trafficmaster have to do with...

    Clearly Trafficmaster users need to be made aware how this information is being collected and used, but I'm not sure where the article was trying to go with its detailed exposition of anti-tracking ruses - essentially you're saying that if you're prepared to do some illegal things, you can find a way to break the law? Erm, yes.

    I guess the point is that if the government is going to try and bring in a technological solution to detect vehicle-related crime including speeding (and I don't have a problem with that, frankly) then it had better be one that won't be trivially avoided by criminals. Fair enough, but not quite connected to what Trafficmaster do...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TrafficMaster blue poles

    The TrafficMaster blue poles take a shot of the number plate, take the middle four digits and convert that into a hash value. It's that value they use to track vehicles.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I have always supsected that Trafficmaster would one day sell the output from their ANPR to the government, in the public interest of course :=)

    They only use part of the registration for their purposes but it should not be too difficult to upgrade the software to extract the whole registration number.

    The danger with these databases is that the police will trawl through them and if they find your car was in the vicinity of several locations associated with a crime then you will become a suspect. If you are then arrested for questioning they will put your DNA and fingerprints on their database for ever.

    Someone with vehicle tracking in their company car said that it is usually mounted under the dashboard so recommended leaving the heater on full with all the vents closed up, the electronics did not like the high temperature and either died or gave false indications.

    (I have been surprised that no one has produced a cheap RFID detector and possibly something to kill them)


  19. Lee Staniforth


    "Drivers can call in to TrafficMaster and ask for a route plan from the call centre"

    Blimey - a bit annoying having to drive to the TrafficMaster call centre first before going to your own destination...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @peter and RFID plates

    Way to go Peter, I see a job looming at Crapita or their friends selling tech snake oil to gullible politicians.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    the current EU & car manufacturer & europol plans for car authentication rely on ANPR reading the number plate and contemporaneously RFID polling the Chassis Number, from a transponder somewhere on the car body. (this is likely to be similar to a UHF epc global bar-code, and will be mandated soon for all new cars). This might go some way to preventing number plate cloning, or giving real-time awareness of such.

    Milan in Italy is soon going "congestion-charge" ....... or in Italian ...... "La congestion-charge"

    Another gem is that the Carabinieri have 'allegedly' leaned on Peugeot & BMW for having some windscreens that were too thin-filmy-shiny/IR reflective and although permitted under EU legislation, the dealers were advised to not import those options here, as otherwise its VERY hard to see who's driving. (Points swapping with Granny is VERY prevalent in Italy)

    er...and Yes, it's quite fun to drive thru' the UK with a foreign plated car. Just the wheel-clampers to avoid!, but now I can hardly believe the 'private' UK use of ANPR & databases? what's with having automatic £120 fines issued by MacD****alds ANPR after a 45 minutes parking time?? (source LBC radio)

  22. Ben


    "Also, don't drive to and from your ghost car in your legit car: walk or ride a bike or something."

    Or just walk or ride a bike in the first place, instead of driving.

  23. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    At least it's only the government

    As you point out, no UK governmemt (at least in my lifetime) has had enough of a clue to abuse this sort of information. Frankly, I don't see this changing in my lifetime, either, since government is one of the few places where the incompetent don't go bust and therefore it attracts idiocy like shit atttracts flies.

    However, if this sort of information (my speeding habits, the roads I drive on, ...) were to fall into the hands of the insurance industry I might find myself being billed according to the risk that I present. Now *that* would give the Daily Mail something to scream about. (Might make the roads safer, though.)

  24. Nano nano


    And no doubt Gordo will claim a "mandate" for all this if he calls an election and gets in.

    Please can any election polls list manifesto bullet points rather than parties ...

  25. E.

    Easier workround...

    ...just emmigrate. Get away from the whole stinking mess.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another Way Around It

    Another way around it, would be to stop using GPS-Style devices and use a PAPER MAP!!!

    Problem Sorted!

  27. dpg

    false registration details...

    How long do you think before its compulsory to use your ID card to transfer the vehicle registration details? Either online or at a post office would make it pretty secure.

    Of course this wouldn't stop any real criminals just, for example, people trying to organize a political rally.

  28. Brendan Weir

    Has anyone actually considered...

    Not breaking the law? It makes me laugh when people call for more traffic cops and less speed cameras. Is it because the speed cameras can't be persuaded to turn a blind eye? I'll bet the same people would then complain that the police should be chasing "real" criminals like murders and rapists! What they really want is to drive recklessly with impunity!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    People want Cops not Cameras because Cops are better at catching the really dangerous drivers that the cameras (currently, at least) don't.

    The visible presence of traffic police discourages more forms of bad driving than simple speeding (and the knowledge that there are undercover traffic cops around is even more effective).

    The speed cameras won't catch the woman behind me today reading her mail with one hand and doing her hair with the other before nearly running up my arse at the traffic lights (or the woman who nearly went up my arse yesterday while texting) - a traffic cop might.

    The only fix for our roads would be to augment each speed camera in the UK with a traffic car (say 50/50 shifts between marked and unmarked) and enforce, with zero-tolerance, a sane and proportionate set of traffic laws with penalties based on risk of harm. Bloody expensive, no doubt, but it would work.

  30. Graham Bartlett

    @The Cube

    "Oh, and all those digital 'speed cameras', I know that a certain UK police farce, a decade ago, routinely stored (in tape vaults back then) an image of every vehicle passing the 'speed camera'"

    Really? I doubt it, to be honest. Let's do the sums and see. A busy road would probably average 1 car every 5s per lane for about 12 hours. Let's assume the camera's smart enough to only photograph each car once, and let's say it's a dual carriageway. That's 17k pictures per day. At 1MB per photo (to have any chance of getting a decent shot of the numberplate) that's 17GB per day per camera. Say the force has 10 such cameras round the area and say traffic at the weekend is half what it is on weekdays, and that's 1TB per week. Today, that's possible but it's still a pretty serious storage requirement. A decade ago, there's no way the police could possibly have afforded it.


  31. Andy Silver badge

    Re: Has anyone actually considered...

    Brendan, you seem to imagine that the only offence you can commit in a car is exceeding the posted speed limit. When speed cameras can pull you over for a quiet word about how stupid it is to tailgate the vehicle in front, resolutely stick to the middle motorway lane when the nearside one is free of traffic, or a thousand other common idiocies, then we won't need the traffic cops.

    Official policy seems designed to drum in the message that the be all and end all of correct driving is obeying the speed limit. The result is roads full of drivers that care about nothing else, certainly not basic observation or common courtesy to other road users.


  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I honestly thought the author was being sarcastic till I read the comments, I'm still hoping he is.

    The Daily Mail is full of such ill-educated doomsday twaddle the last thing it needs is a tech news site or its readers agreeing with it.

    It's a damn GPS device in your car.

    That is all.

  33. peter Silver badge

    ID theft...

    I think someone's stolen my userid. I let it go when the name differed by case, but now someone's posting under my name, and kicking up a stink! This is why we need a bloody national ID card - to stop this kinda traversty (as well as to stop people registering cars with false details). So /peter/ hands off my nick - I got there first. ;)

  34. Maty

    Ah, sweet

    Fears that Britain is 'turning into' a survelliance society.

    Golly. So the process is not complete? Are we not in fact turning into 'more of a survelliance society'? Still, if it protects us all from terrorists and pedophiles, then bring it on and gawd bless yer, Gordon.

  35. Gaz

    Not long now...

    Soon they will force Motorbikes to have a frontal number plate, thus removing the currently held advantage of riding a generic fronted crotch rocket whilst obscuring your ugly mug with a dirty great helmet! Damn them all!

    Flying cars may defeat their plan....


  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > Soon they will force Motorbikes to have a frontal number plate

    I must be getting old then. My motorbike had a front number plate. It was mounted on top of the front mudguard, and should it have run between some poor sods legs then it would have saved him a visit to the anti-pregnancy clinic.


  37. Andrew Katz

    The Mail. You gotta love it.

    Errm.. your article gives the impression that the Daily Mail is somehow against a surveillance society. Surely it's only those who have something to hide who should worry about this?

    On the other hand, doublethink is yet another Orwellian characteristic for which the Mail is famed.

    I wonder how many people who read this will assume that my first paragraph is an accurate representation of my own views, rather than a summary of the Daily Mail's usual stance?

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anonymised data?

    If the data is anonymised (e.g. by removing the registration number) before it is sold on, it will always be possible to work out who’s data it is by the travel patterns; where is the car standing overnight, where does it travel to every day for 9 to 5, etc mean that that data is always personally identifiable.

    I do not believe this data should ever be distributed or made available for sale (imagine a Burmese-style state having access to it), and the design concept of Telematics systems should be reviewed such that any charging information (i.e. £s) is calculated before transmission from the car, the car owner should have sole access and ownership of the travel data, and only the charging information should be transmitted back to the central system for billing.

    As for Lewis’s system of having a special car just for evasion purposes (alternatively, a pushbike is basically untrackable, and very handy in the urban environment), couldn’t you just spoof your car’s telematics signal instead? The most popular telematics basically collects all the data and then transmits it regularly over the Orange network (GPRS); if there is no network available it just saves it up for when it can get a signal, so the tin foil method only delays it, does not stop it. Why not replace that signal with some better data, so while you’ve just driven through a couple of very expensive zones at peak times, the (vast) database thinks that you’ve just gone down to the local shop.

  39. John Dougald McCallum

    Nationwide realtime ANPR joined up with in-car GPS? By The Cube

    All you have to do is have a tinted windscreen,or in my case ride a motorcycle,and use a helmet with a 'sun visor' see through that plod.Oh and if you havent noticed bikes dont have front number plates.

  40. Law


    Come on.... we can't even get decent websites built for our little government... you think we will ever need to hack a system that is doomed to failure in the first place????

    Alot of these things are easy to say, and impossible for somebody like our government and the waste-of-money companies who win the contracts to build.

    I doubt anything this complicated will ever surface as a compulsary measure, they talk alot about this crap - hell, they might even plan and spend some planning money on it... but in the end, it just wont work.

    I work for a tech company who does imaging for cctv systems, and we were looking at getting the governments "stamp of approval" recently through an initiative... the footage and demands they put on that footage for alarm timings and detection conditions just openned up my eyes to the fact that the people who design and bid for these things must either lie to get the contracts, or the government have very incompetant people giving out the specs and accepting bids. Crazy crazy people!!

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