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January 07, 2006

Big Brother's Got Computers 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

And cameras, too. WaPo:

Britain, already the world's leader in video surveillance of its people, will soon be able to automatically track the movements of millions of cars on most of its major roads.

Law enforcement agencies are drastically increasing the number of cameras that read license plates and are building a national database that designers say will make it possible to determine in seconds whether a car zooming by has insurance, was stolen or was seen near a crime scene.

"It will revolutionize policing," said John Dean, the national coordinator of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system, or ANPR. "Our aim is to deny criminals the use of the roads." [...]

Dean said the idea is to make it difficult, if not impossible, to travel by road without being captured by the cameras. [Emphasis added]

The system will track all vehicular traffic in real time.

It was terrorism (IRA bombing, and now the London subway bombings) that caused the Brits to acquiesce in becoming the most surveilled society on earth. But just as more people are killed by pigs each year than by sharks, many times more people are killed in traffic accidents than by terrorist attacks. It makes a lot more sense to be scared of driving your car than it does to be scared of terrorism.

Terrorism does scare people, though, so they say, here are my rights, take them. If they think about it all, they imagine it's a tradeoff between a horrible terrorist attack on the one hand, and the benign use of surveillance technology by honest, well-meaning public servants on the other.

The only way to remain free, however, is to have institutions with a built-in expectation of abuse, systems that don't depend on the honesty, good will, and benign intentions of the people who run them. That's the whole point of the American system of checks and balances: people inevitably abuse power unless they are checked. People on the right who bleat that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear are fools. Giving governments the power to track everyone's movements (or to eavesdrop on their phone conversations) and expecting that power not to be abused is to ignore both history and human nature.

Posted by Jonathan at January 7, 2006 06:27 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb