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Smile For The Camera: Big Brother Is Watching You Speed Via Satellite

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GPS satellite

GPS satellite

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The man banned, Tom Riall, is CEO of Serco, supplier of traffic cameras to the British government

The man banned, Tom Riall, is CEO of Serco, supplier of traffic cameras to the British government

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Satellites do many awesome things: they allow us to communicate with friends and family, they help us find our way home when we're lost, and of course, they bring us television -- delicious television. But there are a few downsides to those hunks of metal and circuitry floating above the surface of the earth, and for drivers in Britain, one of those downsides is now speed traps. (Those of you who think traffic cams are the worst thing since Crystal Pepsi might want to jump to the next article.)

In London and Cornwall, a pilot program has just been launched that combines all the fun of terrestrial speed cameras with the creepy omniscience of GPS. In a nutshell, the program -- called "SpeedSpike" -- uses positioning satellites to track motorists as they travel between traffic cameras. By calculating the time it takes a driver to move from one point to the other, SpeedSpike can determine whether or not the motorist has been speeding. When the car reaches the second camera, calculations are made, and if they're out of line -- blammo! -- a photo is taken of the license plate, and a ticket is mailed to the owner.

Obviously, this is terrible news for leadfooters. Garden-variety traffic cameras are confined to a particular area: if you're not driving by one, it can't give you a ticket. But SpeedSpike allows the camera system to expand exponentially, with far less on-the-ground hardware. As long as you drive past two cameras, your speed can be measured and you can potentially receive a citation. Taken to its logical extreme, the British government could roll out enough camera checkpoints to cover the entire nation.

And just because this is happening in Britain doesn't mean that those of us in North America can relax: the company behind SpeedSpike, PIPS Technology, is based in Knoxville, Tennessee. Not to get all survivalist or anything, but: yikes.

Of course, the real problem with SpeedSpike goes beyond overbearing traffic enforcement: SpeedSpike opens the door to serious breaches of individual privacy. It's hard to argue that anything as illegal and dangerous as speeding is a-okay, so SpeedSpike itself is, in theory, justifiable. But the jump from traffic enforcement to more insidious applications is a short and easy one.

Unfortunately, just like cell phones, in-car internet, and Lunchables, the genie is out of the bottle on this brand of technology. PIPS's pilot program might fail for any number of reasons -- political, logistical, or otherwise -- but the idea is there, and the technology is there, so our guess is that the service itself will eventually be there in some form or other. As drivers (and voters), we need to make sure it rolls out in a way that ensures safety while also respecting the privacy of individuals.

[Telegraph via Mashable, John]

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Comments (20)
  1. Drop the safety babble, it's never about safety, it's about control and revenue, nothing more. "Safety" is merely a convenient soothing word used to inflict more restrictions and control upon the life and liberty of others.
    If there's a tax/fee/fine dollar to be made, you can be sure the bureaucrats will be there signing up for another 'revenue stream' to ensure their continued existence.
     
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  2. Totally agree with LB45. If cops spent more time nabbing unaware teenagers texting while driving, and lunatics in slammed Audis doing 100 mph on side streets, we'd actually improve SAFETY. But that's not their job; their job is to raise as much cash for their little burgh as they can. PTUI. At least this way you'll just get the ticket in the mail & you don't have to trek down to some corrupt court.
     
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  3. Yep-this is another way to get more money out of Americans.
     
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  4. The article is almost correct - the satellites used to not "track motorists as they travel between traffic cameras". The camera takes a picture of the car's license plate at point 'A' then a second camera reads the plate at point 'B'. The cameras send the plate to a central computer, with a timestamp (from GPS time, which comes from satellites, and is highly accurate). The computer software knows the distance between the 2 cams and the speed limit, so can deduce the speed-over-distance, then issue a traffic ticket if the motorist deserves it. The satellites are ONLY used for their GPS timing signals, nothing else. These cameras do not transmit or store video, only the still images of the plates and the car, just like a photo radar vehicle does.
    And LB45 - clearly you've never been on the receiving end of high speed violations and haven't ever had to deal with the chaos that results in a high speed accident. Saying that these systems are only for control (huh?) and revenue is naive.
     
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  5. Doris - your comment is ironic. These systems free up officers to do those oh-so-important duties you describe, rather than sitting on the side of the freeway with a laser gun.
     
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  6. What happens when they go all Skylab on our asses?
     
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  7. Crash and Burn, I'm pretty sure this system isn't capable of performing science experiments in low earth orbit for NASA.
    P.S. We're watching you!
     
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  8. @leftcoastmark: Thanks for tidying up my verbiage. Obviously, I oversimplified the process. That said, even though the process may be fairly innocuous -- at least in technical terms -- it still opens the door to far more sinister applications.
    _
    As for the question of using cameras to generate revenue...well, there's no denying that they increase the county coffers. And I admit, it seems unfair to get pegged for a crime by a machine instead of a real person. But how different is a speed camera from, say, a metal detector locating a gun on someone entering a building? In both cases, a machine does the work of identifying the lawbreaker, and in both cases, lives might've been saved. So what's the difference between packing a pistol in a public school and speeding through a school zone?
    _
    I don't have the answers, just plenty of questions.
     
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  9. if a car gets stolen can it help catch that car? if it can read location and liscence plate then why not find cars?
     
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  10. I just hope they offer some tolerance - like at least 10 percent. People shouldnt be speeding anyway even if the conditions seem safe, like deserted road, middle of the night kind of thing.
     
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  11. Scary stuff. Thanks for letting us know about this.
     
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  12. LeftCoastMark,
    I've been hit at least twice by idiots speeding, once even totaling out my car. Both cases were by "uninsured motorists" who probably wouldn't even be bothered by such high tech tickets since they didn't have legit tags to start with.
    My chances of being whacked by a speeder are still less than being run over by an idiot on a cell phone, a text'er, or some DA drinking and eating while driving. It may be ok for some of you to blindly accept the continued erosion of our liberty, but don't come crying to me when you find yourself locked down into a dull "safe" existence beholden to the nanny state you've created.
     
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  13. Of course it's about safety. Just because almost everyone can SAFELY drive faster than the speed limit almost all the time doesn't mean the speed laws are wrong. They are speeds that allow for people who may be tired or have other limitations that make them a little less "on their game" that day. And that includes you!
    REMEMBER THAT EVERY DRIVER'S NUMBER 1 OBLIGATION IS TO MAKE SURE THE OTHER GUY GETS THERE SAFELY, no matter how badly he's driving.
    Would you like to drive at 200 mph hour after hour? You can, quite legally if you want. All you have to do is to build and own the road yourself. Private roads aren't limited by public speed laws. But if you want to use the road we all pay for, you had better play by the rules we have collectively set.
    Don't worry about fines or license suspensions. They're the more common but least problem with violations. Worry about spending many years in jail for homicide or facing millions of dollars in civil cases should you fail in your primary obilgation by the stupid act of speeding. Of course you can take approach many of us do, and drive in competition on a closed course.
     
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  14. I agree with LB45.
    @LeftCoastMark
    Its essentially continually shown that these systems are purely for revenue rather then for actually safety. There has been enough controversy over systems like this in the past to show.
    Perfect example that happened locally. I'm located in Major US city, and we had an issue where the company running the Red Light cameras had been found to manipulate sensors in order to increase the amount of tickets provided. Mainly because most of these companies, at the moment, get money for every ticket, or a percentage of the revenue from the tickets.
    Also there have been issues with municipalities decreasing the length of the yellow light (which, was found to actually be more dangerous) to where even a person traveling the speedlimit, at a certain point didnt have enough space to stop, but also not enough time to make it across the intersection without running the red.
     
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  15. Driving 100 MPH on regular highways is plainly and obviously safe. Cops do it all the time for all drivers to see (flaunting their freedom in our slave faces) which is simple enough proof of the safety of the act. If 100MPH was unsafe they would crash and burn all the time. They don't. They're fine. For further proof, German autobahn have long stretches with NO SPEED LIMIT at all. Autobahn also have better safety record proven and shown than US super-low speed highways. Keeping us driving slow is just another jack boot in our faces, like body x-ray machine at airport. The list is endless I'm probably talking to 99% sheep anyway.
     
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  16. @Richard Reed:there is a world of difference between your metal detactor and a speed camera. A handgun concealed on the person of a law abiding and vetted citizen entering a school facility poses NO danger whatever, and in many instances could well have prevented or seriously limited the number of people shot in any of the high profile school shootings... every one of which was perpetrated in a legally defined "gun free zone".. gun free except for the one used to kill large numbers of innocents. Speed cameras DO function primarily as revenue sources, as do the coppers at the side of the motorways with their radar guns. I see them all the time, looking for some hapless chap a few over the (typically ridiculously low) number posted...... meanwhile doing nought about the ten cars passing by at two car lengths separation at 100 Klicks/60 mph. Safety is NOT at issue, following too closely is the NUMBER ONE cause of motorway crashes. So why are they on about how fast someone is going, and not the least about how closely they follow on the car in front? Travel about the USA, you will find some states (Oregon) with posted limits insanely low, whilst other states (Montana, Texas) with roadways of almost identical quality have limits posted forty, fifty, percent higher.... and LOWER crash rates per mile driven. There HAVE been many instances of enforcement being proven faudulent, designed merely to generate revenue for the jurisdiction "enforcing".
     
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  17. "It's hard to argue that anything as illegal and dangerous as speeding is a-okay, so SpeedSpike itself is, in theory, justifiable."
    Moronic statement. Speeding is not dangerous.
     
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  18. In the Czech Republic they also photograph the driver...been there, had that...
     
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  19. Remember that the lower the speed limit, the lower the carrying capacity of the road. Are you low speed limit advocates prepared to pay for the additional lanes required to move 55mph traffic instead of 75mph traffic?
     
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  20. If a vehicle passes through certain points - wherever these cameras are - where it came from and where it is going can be inferred, as well as where it has stopped, if the camera network is large enough. This comes as no surprise, seeing as the UK already has the most extensive public surveillance infrastructure in the world.
     
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