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UK License Plate Cameras Have "Gaps In Coverage" 283

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the can-you-track-me-now? dept.
Aguazul2 writes "UK police are sad that despite having the most comprehensive driver surveillance system of any developed country, there are still gaps in their coverage. From the article: 'The cameras automatically record plate/time/location information and send it to a central data store, which has complete nationwide records for 6 years.' Also interesting is that an unspecified 'particular driving style' can be used to evade detection by the cameras. It appears, however, that criminals are well aware of the cameras and take other routes. Big Brother technology, coming soon to a country near you!"
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UK License Plate Cameras Have "Gaps In Coverage"

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  • by Dr. Hok (702268) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @03:24AM (#41146059)
    It's OK as long you're not seen by two cameras at the same time.
    • Re:SCORPION STARE (Score:5, Interesting)

      by xaxa (988988) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @04:22AM (#41146317)

      I think the "unspecified driving style" is to drive straddling 2 lanes, then the alignment of the camera is wrong. They do say it's impractical ...

      • I'll bet it's crane style.

      • I would guess that simply tailgating a big van/lorry past each camera would be sufficient to make the licence plate unreadable.

        I know that this happens on some automated toll roads here in Norway...

        Terje

        • Cars, vans, lorrys etc in the UK have to display their number plates on both front and rear (motorcycles only have to display them on the rear) so setting up the automatic recognition cameras to read the rear places would mostly avoid this problem. It's easy to tailgate someone, much harder to force someone to tailgate you.

          However I did hear that they can't read the old style black and white number plates. Dunno if that is true but if it is then provided you are prepared to drive an old vehicle it could pro

        • Or, high intensity IR LEDs illuminating the plate, invisible to humans...

      • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @05:49AM (#41146657)

        I think the "unspecified driving style" is to drive straddling 2 lanes, then the alignment of the camera is wrong. They do say it's impractical ...

        I once saw someone do this. There was a sign saying "left-turning traffic use both lanes" and he obviously thought that it applied to individual cars, as he passed this sign he moved into the middle!

      • by mikael (484)

        That's one way. The other ways are to drive into a truck Mr. Bean style, and drive out as soon as you are past the cameras . The other way would be to have a chain of three or more cars tailgating each other.

      • by Jamu (852752)
        Swerving from side to side so the pictures come out blurry!
  • tick tock (Score:4, Insightful)

    by epyT-R (613989) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @03:25AM (#41146061)

    bit by bit, freedom is chipped away in the name of safety. I know I want no part of such a society.

    • Re:tick tock (Score:5, Insightful)

      by shitzu (931108) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @04:05AM (#41146249)

      Not even for safety. It is chipped away for an *illusion* of safety. Does anybody know anyone who feels more safe than a couple of decades ago thanks to all the modern surveillance tech? I don't.

      • by VortexCortex (1117377) <(VortexCortex) ( ... -retrograde.com)> on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @04:31AM (#41146359)
        The government does.
    • The worst problem is that those lacking in logic will assume that, since safety is used as an excuse, safety must be a bad thing to strive for.

      Whatever excuse is used, it must be understood that the underlying cause in this case is the accumulation of power. It is accumulation of excessive power - whether in government or corporation - which we must resist.

      When any new idea is proposed anywhere, the first thing to ask must be: "Which groups benefit?" If anyone actually or potentially disproportionately bene

  • Not Gaps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by N1AK (864906) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @03:25AM (#41146063) Homepage
    There is no national plan to cover the whole road network in these cameras which makes saying there are 'gaps' in coverage a little misleading (it even says so in the article). It may well be a hint that universal coverage is a de facto goal of many involved in deploying these cameras. Weird and wacky driving may help you avoid detection but in many cases the bahaviour would draw attention to you and would be counter-productive.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      There is no national plan to cover the whole road network in these cameras yet

      There, fixed that for you.

    • The monitoring will be done by your own bloody car. Real-time tracking will be required to register a car or even obtain insurance as the surety knobs want it too, to increase your rates in real time if the telemetry suddenly goes non-milquetoast.

      Remember, citizen: driving is a privilege, not a right. Just like travel, speech, and thought.
  • Yeah, because Julia and Winston are supposed to take the train, not drive.

  • Burden of Proof? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @03:37AM (#41146103)

    The world is only now waking up to the dangers of 'big data', and having faceless corporations track your every move across the internet, or your purchases, or your contacts via social media. Governments quite like corporations doing this, since once the data is mined and analyzed, they can get it via court order, for free, with laws that prevent the companies from telling their customers.

    What's happening with motoring is similar. Placing ANPR technology on main roads implements the whole-scale surveillance of a nation. Gone are the days of having to have a court order to tap a phone or intercept someone's postal mail. Now, the data is collected and analyzed first - essentially presumed guilt, not presumed innocence.

    The linked article suggests that there are ways of defeating ANPR technology. There are perhaps two. The first is to steal the license plates of a different car. This trick has been around for years, and extensive effort has been put into supplying license plates that show clearly visible signs of this - they fracture and turn black. The other is somewhat more dangerous, which is to know in advance where all the cameras are, and then tailgate a large truck past the cameras.

    In short, the police have the inclination, budget and incentive to build out a better and better tracking system until even these few gaps are gone.

    A more important question, however, may be to step back and look at where the balance now lies in terms of personal freedoms versus state power. The theory of a democracy is that it provides a 'government by the people', yet I wonder how many people are comfortable with the current state of play?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This trick has been around for years, and extensive effort has been put into supplying license plates that show clearly visible signs of this - they fracture and turn black.

      A far simpler option is to make your own convincing fake. Soon possibly with a 3D printer.

      • I would suggest a legislation change - any car that drives around with your license plate should be declared legally yours. Imagine getting a letter from the police: "Dear Mr. xxxx, we just found a car with your license plate. If you hand over the cash for three speeding tickets and six parking tickets we'll hand over the car to you".
    • The linked article suggests that there are ways of defeating ANPR technology. There are perhaps two. The first is to steal the license plates of a different car.

      Didn't Watchdog do a bit last year about how easy it is to get a number plate printed? No need to steal one, just spot a car that's similar to yours, note the number, then find a number plate supplier who is suitably casual about paperwork. I thought that was the reason for fuzzing out the plates on television these days.

      Why are number plates printed by private businesses anyhow? It seems like a weak point in the system.

      • by Xest (935314)

        The weak point exists for the reason that car dealerships claim they need to be able to print show plates for cars on show at their garages. Also, some people like custom plates, nationalists like having their countries flag on rather than the standard EU style plate for example.

        It is extremely easy to get them printed, an old colleague's ex owned such a printing business and was done for working with an organised crime gang who stole luxury cars and used him to print the plates. He tried to use the excuse

      • by Ash Vince (602485) *

        Why are number plates printed by private businesses anyhow? It seems like a weak point in the system.

        Yup, certainly is.

        A few years ago a friend of mine had a minor crash and trashed the number plate on his car. This was no surprise as he was a crap driver who shouldn't have been on the road anyway (he had about 5 or 6 crashes in the same year, all low speed though).

        He got pulled over for driving a car with no front number plate and the police told him to get it sorted before he drove it again so he walked to the local garage and paid them to print up a new front plate for him. Unfortunately he was not all

    • The first is to steal the license plates of a different car. This trick has been around for years, and extensive effort has been put into supplying license plates that show clearly visible signs of this - they fracture and turn black.

      Is this a European thing? Our Canadian plates are about the simplest stamped steel painted white you can possibly imagine. The only "security" on them is that the letters are embossed.

      • Some states in the US have phased in 3M's security sheeting. There is a helix printed down the middle of the plate in the reflective base. It also helps that one can only get "official" plates from their state or province. No one else is allowed to make them, unlike in the UK. There are reproduction plates, but they are quite lousy looking and obviously fake. They usually screw up the sheeting or the dies used to make the numbers/letters are different.
    • by Xest (935314)

      To be fair, and I don't know if it's changed, the ANPR cameras used to only log your details if your plate could be cross-referenced with another list such as a list of stolen cars, a list of uninsured/declared off the road vehicles etc. or vehicles on a specific watch-list which IIRC they do actually have to obtain a warrant to add a vehicle to. So the only time they'd log and flag is if you were actually breaking the law in the first place. Similarly many people believe speed cameras are always filming bu

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        That's still the case - if a car is stolen there's really only a narrow window of opportunity to put it on ANPR before it ends up burnt out on a canal bank somewhere. When my sister's car was stolen, the police added it to ANPR within an hour or so, but it didn't show up because it didn't pass any cameras before it was parked up (she found it about half a mile away from her house, mostly undamaged, a week later).

        The "yellow vulture" average speed cameras keep track of registration numbers for about an hour

      • by Ash Vince (602485) *

        To be fair, and I don't know if it's changed, the ANPR cameras used to only log your details if your plate could be cross-referenced with another list such as a list of stolen cars, a list of uninsured/declared off the road vehicles etc. or vehicles on a specific watch-list which IIRC they do actually have to obtain a warrant to add a vehicle to.

        Warrant? What is this warrant thing you speak of?

        Oh, you mean like a search warrant that can just be issued by any police officer above the rank of inspector? Warrants in the UK are a joke since most are now just issued by the police themselves without them having to go anywhere near a judge or magistrate. If a police officer is willing to arrest you he can immediately search you and the surrounding area (including your home, car, etc) without needing a warrant.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_warrant [wikipedia.org]

        Th

        • by Xest (935314)

          "Contrary to you belief though they can can pull your car over just because it has a marker on it, they do not need any further reason."

          They can do this regardless of any marker anyway and this is the same in most countries. They're allowed to do spot checks for drink driving, or to check your car is roadworthy for example, so I'm not really sure there's much to complain about here unless you want to have a debate as to whether police should ever be allowed to do such spot checks, but that's a different dis

  • Funny, that. And true. I was driving in England a few weeks ago, and even the simple, solar-panel fed digital speed-warning systems read your plates. Even my (foreign) plates!

  • no sleep (Score:4, Informative)

    by rapiddescent (572442) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @03:52AM (#41146187)

    I used to live 1km from the ANPR that was situated on the "ring of steel" near Canary Wharf in London - or, more accurately - my bedroom window was right next to the point that the cop cars would catch up with the non-taxed, non-MOT'd cars after they had cruised through. At the beginning of the month it was about 2 a night that would be stopped as police cars operated a pincer movement around the Isle of Dogs [wikipedia.org]

    the slightly scary thing is that you can buy your own ANPR System [dvisystems.co.uk] off the shelf. (I know that geeks can easy create it themselves using motion and some OCR tools - but, imagine selling this to normal people!!

    • by jabuzz (182671)

      Perhaps I am a garage and want to record the number plate used with each sale in case of card fraud?

      Perhaps I run a private car park that offers free parking for say two hours (imagine I am a supermarket), and be able to issue fines to those that stay longer?

      I can see a whole slew of perfectly legitimate reasons why private companies might want to track number plates, and reducing that cost to them reduces the cost of the products I buy from them.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Funny you should mention supermarkets. After the recent Tesco debacle I wouldn't trust them to store that kind of data securely.

        There might be all sorts of "perfectly legitimate" reasons for collecting this data, but there is no system in place to check that someone has such a reason when buying one of these devices and nothing in place to check that they are responsible with the data.

    • by nut (19435)

      the slightly scary thing is that you can buy your own ANPR System [dvisystems.co.uk] off the shelf. (I know that geeks can easy create it themselves using motion and some OCR tools - but, imagine selling this to normal people!!

      That's not the scary thing. That's the only thing that is at all positive. You can't put the genie back in the bottle. And given that, the most empowering thing you can do for people is to make the same powers of observation available to everybody.

  • How the system works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ModelX (182441) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @04:06AM (#41146251)

    I used to work on license plate recognition about a decade ago. Typically there are problems with illumination, motion and noise. So what the systems try to do is boost illumination (often by hidden IR lights) and decrease motion related blur by taking multiple shots and integrating images and/or filtering the results. All this algorithms have some built in assumptions about the expected area of interest, scale and most likely motion. Suppose you detect license plate at some position and scale in frame N. To boost the probability of being correct, you want to check if you can find the same plate number in frame N+1 and possibly N+2. Detection is all about probability. There are some thresholds built in that on one side maximize the probability of license plate detection and on the other side minimize pollution of the database with bad results. So in short, if your license plate is dirty and your trajectory is not what the system expects (changing lanes and velocity) it's more likely the system will not store the result. If you know the specifics of the particular system, you may beat it easily, like if the system first looks for the plate frame, you can mask or offset the frame, or if you know about the exact illumination filtering procedure you may add some conflicting structured illumination.

    • Years ago, I couldn't remove the old license plate from my car to install the new plate as the screws had rusted solid. So I bolted the new plate to the bottom holes in the old plate. But there is a little slack in connections so the top plate can move a little (read: vibrate). Not intentional, but I imagine at speed, my plate might be a bit more blurry than the norm. Shame, that.
  • Sorry officer but there is a big muddy puddle just outside of my house.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Then they may pull you over and fine you for having an unreadable license plate.

    • by Xest (935314)

      Except it's an offence in itself to have a non-legible number plate.

    • Then you will be pulled over and asked* to clean your license plate until it is readable...

      *: You will be nicely asked to clean your license plate, they won't let you drive off until you've done that, though.

  • When I go to the UK, I always change my numberplate to: FU'); DROP Table NUMBERPLATES;--
  • by ffflala (793437) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @05:01AM (#41146497)
    It means that in order to avoid these cameras, from now on you will have to do skidding 360s through every single intersection, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcmswRwdvnA [youtube.com]. It's really just a natural progression from the roundabout.
    • Which is what I've done. Only been stopped once in 5 yearsby some bored country plod , gave some BS excuse and he let me off.
      Or you could ride a motorbike - they don't have front plates anyway. Presumably the police arn't interested in catching people on bikes. Perhaps crims don't use them? Oh , wait.... this isn't about catching criminals. Silly me.

  • [modifying number plates] may be counter-productive from the terrorist standpoint

    Whoa, where did that come from? They also claim they "contributed to more than 50,000 arrests". That's a lot of "terrorists" then: maybe we should live in permanent shivering supine unquestioning fear.

    Or maybe we could just put Elbonian plates on and jabber "No speaking Englandish!" if stopped, like any halfwit career criminal could figure out.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Murdoch's papers (News of the World) use to buy information from the police. They even admitted as much to Parliament inquiry as though they were above the law.

    I bet they bought the logs of where famous stars and politicians went, when and how.

    And if Murdoch can buy that info, how many times do you think other criminals have bought that info. Just as the vehicle registration office was selling license plate information to clamping outfits, debt collectors, pretty much anyone who wanted it, I bet the police

  • There's a radar sign near my home that displays nothing if you go, uh, significantly faster than it says you should.

  • by FridgeFreezer (1352537) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @08:28AM (#41147273)
    A friend of mine heard his car being driven off his driveway at night, called the police who typed his reg into the computer. Within a few minutes it had been ANPR'd leaving town, one camera later they knew fairly sure which way he was headed (motorway out of county), maybe half an hour later a police car rolls up behind him at a motorway services and cuffs both occupants, car returned to owner.

    The issue is not the technology, the issue is how it's used and by whom. This is an excellent system for reducing vehicle crime - theft, unisured drivers, unsafe vehicles on the road, etc. that cost us all a shitload of money in taxes, insurance premiums, death. They can do this as much as they like, I'm cool with that, but I want to know that that's ALL they're doing with it, and that they're not selling my data etc. etc.

    People need to stop getting all antsy about the technology and concentrate their attention / concerns / questions on HOW it's used.

  • by zotz (3951)

    "It appears, however, that criminals are well aware of the cameras and take other routes"

    Careful, that makes anyone whose vehicle does not show up on the cameras possibly shady.... ~;-)

    all the best,

    drew

  • I think this just might maybe have to do with the fact that they cheaped out on low res, grainy, piece of crap cameras that can see about 10 feet reliably.
  • What if you got your car a rather unique paint job that featured random strings of numbers and letters at different orientations. I wonder how well the tracking system would work, or bet yet, change the paint scheme every so often.

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