Being arrested is no small matter in England any more (Robert Henderson)

by Robert Henderson

Robert Henderson

There was a time when being arrested in England did not matter very much. Before digital technology came of age your fingerprints and mug shot might be taken, but if no charges were laid or, if you were brought to trial, a conviction was not obtained for the alleged offence which had caused your arrest, the chances of the ordinary law abiding person being inconvenienced in the future by the fact that those details were held by the police were small. There was no Police National Computer (PNC) until 1974 and the widespread use of personal computers was almost two decades after that.

Today not only are fingerprints and mug shots taken but DNA samples as well if some is arrested on suspicion of committing a recordable offence. These are held indefinitely on the PNC, a database which can be accessed by any police force in the country. Currently, the data is held indefinitely regardless of whether an arrested person is convicted, tried and found not guilty or released without charge. There is the Protection of Freedoms Bill which is still going through Parliament which places some restrictions on the holding of data of those not convicted of a crime, but even if these become law –and they could be amended before the Bill is passed – these still allow considerable opportunity for the storage of fingerprints, DNA and mug shots of the unconvicted, viz:

Protection of Freedoms Bill proposals

The following details relate to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, introduced on the 7 February 2011. As this has not yet been agreed by Parliament, these proposals are subject to change.

What if I am arrested for a minor offence, but not charged or convicted?

The provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that in the future these will not be retained at all.

What if I am arrested for, but not charged with a serious offence?

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that the police will only be permitted to retain DNA and fingerprints in very tightly controlled circumstances. We will be establishing an independent commissioner to oversee DNA retention and they will make a decision whether retention is necessary, taking into account the age and vulnerability of victim of the alleged offence and their relation to the person arrested.

What if I am arrested for and charged with a serious offence, but not convicted?

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that in these cases we propose to retain the DNA and fingerprints for three years, with the option of a single two-year extension by a court.

What if I am convicted of an offence?

The provisions of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill as introduced in Parliament provide that all adults convicted of any recordable offence will have their DNA and fingerprints retained indefinitely.

We are proposing a separate retention regime for those under 18 years of age who are convicted of an offence. Those convicted of a serious offence will have their DNA and fingerprints retained indefinitely. For those under 18 who are convicted of a minor offence their DNA will be retained for five years on a first conviction (plus the length of any custodial sentence) and then indefinitely following a second conviction. (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/police/powers/dna-and-fingerprints/)

DNA is especially important, because unlike fingerprints it can be readily deposited by someone else at the scene of a crime or inadvertently picked up by someone committing a crime or by the victim of a crime. In principle this could also happen with fingerprints if someone deliberately or inadvertently picks up something with someone’s fingerprints on it and leaves it at the scene of a crime or a victim does so inadvertently. But the scope for framing someone in that fashion is much less than it would be for DNA because of the difficulty in both obtaining and retaining a clear print inadvertently or leaving something with a clear print on it which could be plausibly seen by the police as being left inadvertently.

Fingerprints obtained in the messy real world encountered by the police are generally a far from certain identifier because of their incompleteness . Even where a clear whole print is available, the identification is not absolutely watertight, not least because the scientific basis of the system has been questioned successfully enough to prevent fingerprint evidence being used in trials in the USA, viz: “U.S. District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak last week ruled that such evidence does not meet standards of scientific scrutiny established by the U.S. Supreme Court, and said fingerprint examiners cannot testify at trial that a suspect’s fingerprints “match” those found at a crime scene. “ (http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91996&page=1#.UHVvghVZWSo).

It is worth adding that justice systems around the world accept different numbers of “points of similarity” in fingerprint evidence as indicative of a positive match. It is all very messy and unavoidably subjective to a significant degree.

DNA is a different matter, or at least is thought to be a different matter. DNA identification is based not on the subjective judgement of visible differences by humans, but the machine matching of strings of DNA code. This gives them an appearance of scientific rigour. However DNA may be degraded or mixed with someone else’s DNA which can make identification far from certain. Identification is also debatable with the controversial “low copy number” DNA testing which deals with minute samples of DNA (http://www.mccannfiles.com/id190.html) Moreover, there will always be false positives. The likelihood of those is strong when a database holds millions of individual DNA samples. The numbers would be small but for those involved the results would be traumatic even if no conviction results. The worst case would be a false conviction for a serious crime.

Apart from false positives, there are three ways an innocent man or woman could fall victim to an police investigation based on the DNA. The first is it could have been planted deliberately by someone. This could have been done to either harm the person whose DNA was planted or it might have been an attempt to mislead the police by someone committing a crime. In the latter case the person whose DNA was planted need not have been known to the person doing the planting. They simply pick up something like a cigarette butt or a used tissue which they have either seen someone leave or they simply find after the person has deposited the item and gone.

The second circumstance would be if someone is the victim of a crime and they inadvertently pick up something carrying DNA , for example a lost hair or blood left by someone. A truly disturbing and amazing example of what can happen involved Mark Minick. Minick was arrested on suspicion of rape. He had a criminal record for robbery and his DNA matched that taken from a hair found on the victim. The problem was that Minick is white and small (5’6”) and the victim identified her attacker as black and large. Notwithstanding this, the CPS proceeded with the case which was only dropped at the first court hearing where the prosecution offered no evidence (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-512980/DNA-farce-My-nightmare-white-man-charged-hunt-black-rapist.html#ixzz28ooimkcD).

How did the victim have a hair of Minick’s? He was working as a porter at the hospital at which the girl was treated. Most probably she picked up the hair there. Minick’s case shows emphatically how powerful a grip DNA evidence has on the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS): they were both willing to ignore the fact that the victim had identified her attacker as large and black while Minick was small and white because they had a DNA match from a source which could have come innocently and inadvertently into the victim’s possession.

The third opportunity for gratuitous involvement in a police investigation would be the use of near DNA matches as a pointer to who might be involved in a crime. Suppose someone, most probably a near relative, has their DNA on the PNC. The police may investigate the close relatives of that person in connection with a crime, regardless of whether the relatives have a criminal record or there is any evidence that they might be guilty. (section 5 http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/NationalDNADatabase.pdf).

Even if nothing happens beyond an investigation this is a considerable intrusion into their lives. Moreover, even if completely, innocent human nature being what it is, others who know of the police involvement may conclude there is no smoke without fire. Nor, as the Minick case showed, can there be any rational belief that the police and CPS will not allow DNA evidence to drive investigations and prosecutions where there is no other strong evidence of guilt.

The fact that even under the reforms proposed in the Protection of Freedoms Bill considerable numbers of people who have never been convicted of or even charged with a criminal offence will remain for years on the PNC means that tens of thousands of people at least will potentially become suspects in future investigations for anything up to five years despite having a clean bill of legal health. If the Protection of Freedom Act is not retrospective when it is passed , that is, it only applies to new arrests, then the numbers the innocent people involved could be millions. To penalise the innocent is unjust and immoral because it is based on the unethical idea that the greater good of the greater number is reason enough to mistreat individuals. If only the DNA and fingerprints of the convicted were held the risks of gratuitous police investigations of the innocent would be greatly reduced.

Nor is the injustice restricted to those with a clean criminal record. The DNA and Fingerprints of anyone convicted of a recordable crime will be held indefinitely. That means people who have committed minor offences such as common assault (often only once in their lives) will be subject to the same risk of further gratuitous investigation based on false positives and so on as those with no convictions who remain on the NPC. This is disproportionate.

Here is a question which I have never seen publicly posed: why are fingerprints and DNA taken from every person arrested regardless of the suspected crime? It is easy to see that they might be useful in the case of criminals such as murderers, burglars and rapists, but what purpose does it serve for people such as fraudsters and those convicted of dangerous driving? It is very improbable that fingerprints or DNA records will be useful in solving future crimes by people who are convicted of fraud or driving offences if they commit similar offences. It is also a fact that most people, including career criminals, tend to commit the same type of crime if they commit more than one. There is a strong civil liberties case for saying fingerprints and DNA ( or any other future biometrics identifier) should only be taken where they are likely to help solve a crime or series of crimes. If that practice was followed it would also greatly reduce the likelihood of people being harassed unnecessarily by the police.

There is also a broader question of the keeping of data other than fingerprints and DNA, for example, notes of unsubstantiated complaints of crime or even reports of behaviour which might be considered suspicious. These can have profound effects on lives because Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks are now required by huge numbers of adults for the purpose of gaining employment or taking part in voluntary activities – the requirements have even been ludicrously extended to parents watching their children take part in school sports or Nativity plays (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2210724/Parents-criminal-record-checks-banned-watching-kids-play-school-sport.html).

CRB checks are of two kinds :

•standard CRB check – for certain specified jobs, licences and entry into certain professions

•enhanced CRB check – for those carrying out certain activities or working in regulated activity with children or adults; applicants for gaming and lottery licences; and judicial appointments…

What you’ll find on a criminal record check

Standard CRB checks will contain details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings from the Police National Computer (PNC).

The enhanced CRB check will include any information from the PNC and may also search:

•information held by local police forces

•lists of people barred from working with children and adults which are kept by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Startinganewjob/DG_195809)

Millions of innocent people could find themselves barred from employment or voluntary activities through no fault of their own. Not only that, where a CRB check is failed, unsubstantiated or simply wrong highly damaging information held by the police will be in the hands of people who know the person who has failed the check and knowledge of a failure to pass a check, even if the details of the failure are not known, will cast doubt over the integrity of the person who has failed the check.

Police records are just part of an ever expanding portfolio of state and private enterprise databases which can affect lives, frequently without the individual even knowing. But police records and the ever swelling reach of the CRB check are by far the most intrusive and controlling of the surveillance apparatus which exists at present in England. They need to be severely controlled.


  1. Evidence is growing that DNA is not totally unique even leaving aside the almost laughable example above.
    As well as an end to even the gathering of DNA in most cases what is needed is a mechanism for the punishment of police/CPS who go on fishing trips as above. One of the reasons that the American courts are now truly terrible is the ongoing and deepening unchecked and unpunished wrongdoing of prosecutors over there. Scumbag DA’s who try to convict people they KNOW are innocent. Who suppress evidence of the accused’s innocence and who play to the mob with media-based peddling of hatred against the accused. There exists NO means of removing or punishing such wrongdoers even when they are exposed as having deliberatly chosen to bring innocent people before the courts(see The Agitator blog with Radley Balko). This is also our problem with the CPS/Blubottles. If they knew that egregeous wickedness would be punished it would help reign them in.

  2. As well as an end to even the gathering of DNA in most cases what is needed is a mechanism for the punishment of police/CPS who go on fishing trips as above.

    This is absolutely right, I think. I’d say we also need a mechanism to punish police and prosecutors who harass home owners and others who use violence to defend their property, person and family.

    But there is a serious problem with the US system anyway as far as I can see, with the prevalence of the abusive “plea bargaining” system, which means their criminal justice system must be regarded as corrupt anyway.

    Imo, we should enact laws to bar any extradition of British citizens to the US for this reason. (In truth, I’d prefer to see us have laws like a number of other countries which bar extradition of British citizens to any foreign jurisdiction, but the US case seems more urgent because their criminal justice and prison systems are a lot less civilised than those in European and some commonwealth countries.)

    • One solution to the bent pig/cps problem is to enact that any official who knowingly fakes or withholds evidence should be punished as if he had himself committed the crime. These people would soon discover the passion for justice they presently only talk about. A similar law would also sort out jury nobbling.

  3. “U.S. District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak last week ruled that such evidence does not meet standards of scientific scrutiny established by the U.S. Supreme Court, and said fingerprint examiners cannot testify at trial that a suspect’s fingerprints “match” those found at a crime scene. “

    As a matter of interest, I wonder if anyone has investigated how many people have been convicted over the century or so that fingerprint evidence has been in use, by exactly that kind of testimony? Doubtless many of them were still guilty of the crime with which they had been charged, but equally doubtless, many might not have been.

    For me the certainty of false convictions (the only thing that is in question is the prevalence) is the unanswerable argument against the death penalty, and the strongest argument against heavier punishments in general (things like corporal punishments, hard labour, etc).

  4. Here is a question which I have never seen publicly posed: why are fingerprints and DNA taken from every person arrested regardless of the suspected crime?

    One doesn’t ask questions for which one would prefer not to see the answers discussed, I suppose.

    There are two agendas at work here, I suspect.

    First, there is the general desire to increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice process in producing convictions. Not, note, its effectiveness at producing a crime-free or just society, but specifically at easing the lives of the bureaucracies involved and the politicians in charge.

    This is one reason why the requirement for jury unanimity was removed, supposedly in response to the problem of jury-tampering in a minority of organised crime or terrorist related cases. There will undoubtedly have been many injustices spawned by that change, the real (if mostly unacknowledged) motive for which was surely just to make it easier to get convictions in general. Tony Martin, for instance, was almost certainly only convicted because of it.

    Second, there is undoubtedly also the darker desire to implement as near as possible to a complete DNA database for the population, in direct defiance of all the arguments made against it in the open. No policeman or civil servant or senior politician will publicly admit that this is what they want, but in many cases it surely is. Just as the rapid introduction of real time anpr systems undoubtedly was smoothed by its usefulness as a population monitoring system for state security purposes.

    The closer they can get to it by such back door methods as described above, the happier they will be.

  5. I think that the system is now actually broken beyond repair, as was intended by the GramscoFabiaNazis who strategized it, beginning certainly more than 120 years ago, and knowing it would take this amount of time as it would have to be done very….very….very gradually. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of intelligent, critical and watchful individuals from the target-population would need to be “serviced” (google that expression) using pretexts such as The 20th-Century Word War with its accidental and non-GFN-planned 21-year-armistice-period, as Germany caved in on the first part of this scam, too early and also unannounced in late 1918. As a result of this, nobody queries the comic notion that for example, HMRC’s debt-enforcer/collectors are called – at least in London in the 1990s (it’s probably more like “Taxpayer-Resettlement-enhancement Services Assistants” now) – the “Taxpayer Services Office”.

    If you were a practizing GramscoFabiaNazi, say, in the 1880s, and if there were only about a few dozen of your, and nobody gave a stuff for Karl Marx any more as he was a destitute bankrupt wastrel saddo in King’s Cross, and everything seemed to be going not exactly your way (even Russia, your great white hope), with the possible exception of Prussia, and hopeful signs in France – what would you have done, being – as Stalin might have said – “Serious”? You’d have done what the Libertarian Alliance is trying to do (initially) and begun to suborn the existing Ruling Class, trying to turn it against the ideals of objectivity and individual justice that it then espoused. Not that that’s what WE are trying to do…we are trying to take it the other way…forwards to where things used to be! (A “revolution” in fact.)

    Any future Libertarian “constitutional settlement” will naturally have to reflect all the political and jurisprudential values previously taken for granted before the effing bastards got their teeth into our windpipes. Thus, everything such as “comprehensive DNA databases”, ANPR and everything even remotely like that kind of stuff, will need to go, and be unreplaced. We can then start again, being a little more vigilant this time for the recurring seedlings of GramscoFabaiNazism, and “nip the bastards in the bud” literally. They may even have to be put in prisons, or worse, if we are, this time, to be “Serious At All” as Stalin has, happily or otherwise, taught us to be.

    I’m not sure what position that would leave a number of “university libraries” in: perhaps we may have to do a little book-burning – which of course in the age of the internet will be purely symbolic. At least the sight of the public combustion of Marx’s works, in perhaps Russell Square, will hust some people who deserve a great deal of hurt. But of course, we can rejoice in the fact that our GFN enemies have taight us that, in some cases mere “possession” of a computer file can be termed a crime. We shall apply this – or at least I will – freely, to them.

  6. I’m sorry, Sean, if that piece above evinced suspicions in your ever-tolerant breast that I am becoming less liberatian, and more intent on actual, verifiable victory in the battle of ideas, which require the showing also the physical existence of a publicly-vanquished, humiliated and prostrate enemy.

    But I an getting really rather pissed off with the bastards. How dare they continue to impose their beliefs upon, for example, billions of people who want to be exposed to no beliefs whatsoever?

    We suit the latter people better.

    • Think nothing of it, David. So long as you don’t try to stop me from hanging Tony Blair in public, you can depension any GFN who gives you a funny look.

  7. Robert Henderson might have added that the CRB checks are carried out by that mysterious organisation Capita. As for Randal’s point about ANPR cameras, these are used to ‘police’ the London Low Emission Zone and keep out commercial vehicles with ‘dirty’ exhausts. The Congestion Charge is similarly policed by cameras, but there is a crucial difference between the two; – the Congestion Charge generates cash for the government whereas the LEZ does not.
    What the LEZ DOES do, however, is enable the government to monitor and record the license plate of every single vehicle (of any type) that drives into London (roughly the M25 area) each day. There can be no other justification whatever for spending millions on a network of ANPR cameras which are not going to generate a penny in income. It is all about surveillance.
    Oh, and both the Congestion Charge and the LEZ are operated by – you guessed it – Capita.

  8. I think the anpr network has slithered in under most people’s radar, as it were.

    It’s a lot more than just the Low Emission Zone. Here’s what the Wikipedia summary mentions:

    Since March 2006, most motorways, main roads, town centres, London’s congestion charge zone,[3] ports and petrol stations forecourts have been covered by CCTV camera networks using automatic number plate recognition. Existing traffic cameras in towns and cities are being converted to read number plates automatically as part of the new national surveillance network.

    Police-enforced ANPR in the UK

    I know for a fact that the police in my area have had mobile anpr in use for a number of years, because one of my friends was pulled over years ago using it (he had a personal number plate which was incorrectly spaced), and the police driver explained how the system checked every passing car’s plate and beeped if one was flagged for attention or was incorrect. (It turned out that the senior officer on duty that morning, who was my friend’s next door neighbour, overheard his name being checked on the radio, and told the policeman in the car he was “all right” – just as well because my friend had had a few drinks and might well have been over the limit.)

    And how about this for an example of how anpr is used in practice, from the same Wikipedia summary:

    John Catt, an 80 year old pensioner at the time and his daughter Linda (with no criminal record between them) – were stopped in 2005, had their vehicle searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 by City of London Police and were threatened with arrest if they refused to answer police questions. After making formal police complaints, it was discovered they were stopped after their vehicle had been picked up by roadside ANPR CCTV cameras, after a marker had been placed against their vehicle in the Police National Computer database as a result of them being spotted attending EDO MBM demonstrations in Brighton.

    • I was explaining to a friend that these wretched cameras have the ability to record 50 million journeys a year, rising to 100 million. I was wrong – it is 100 million a DAY. Tell this to the younger generation and most of them will respond that the cameras are there ‘to protect us against terrorists’. Or ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide etc.. ‘. Seems that the brainwashing is complete.

  9. Well, all I can now say, following those comments, is that the Directors (and staffs) of those firms, whether UK-resident or abroad, that provided “ANPR” technology to the pre-Libertarian British State and also to its Police Forces and “Councils”, will be “investigated” by a Libertarian government’s War secretariat, with a view to instituting War Crimes indictments. The fines will be enormous – I may as well prime the bastards for what’s going to hit them, and do it now. No private schooling for their children, and that’ll just be the tip of it.

    We can’t just let this stuff pass, as if it did not matter: all that will happen is that “firms” will then continue to provide technology to tyrannical states, as though this didn’t matter a toss and was therefore a victimless activity. It’s “for the children” you see – except that we mean it and the GfNs don’t.

    • We could pass an act of attainder – or use the Civil Contingencies Act – to sequestrate the personal assets of the directors and senior management. Needless to say, the civil servants who hired them would be kicked, unpensioned, into the street.

  10. Well while we are still in the here and now, Sean better watch out what T-shirts he wears:

    Barry Thew jailed for T-shirt mocking PCs deaths

    All it takes is some half-baked numpty in a judge costume deciding his anti-police comments are offensive. Mind you, I don’t suppose Sean would be stupid (or ill-advised) enough to actually plead guilty, but still – 8 months in prison (4 for the “offence” and another 4 from a pre-existing suspended sentence)!

    Better reserve some space in those tribunals for the Judges and the Magistracy, David.

    • We’ll need more than a few treason trials. Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about the South African Truth and Reconciliation hearings. You can’t fault the Marxists of the ANC – they knew how to smash up a still reasonably united enemy without having to kill any of them. Impressive.

  11. Further to the Barry Thew comment, I take it everyone here’s aware of the jailing of Matthew Woods for “offensive” comments on Facebook about April Jones?

    A few interesting details; he was arrested “for his own safety” after a mob of 50 turned up at his house. Apparently the police didn’t think of arresting or dispersing the mob; typical of any State in a state of hysteria, the authorities quietly condone threat and violence against moral transgressors. Needless to say, there is no such thing as arresting a person for their own safety. You might offer them protection- “come down to the police station where we can protect you more easily”- but an arrest is by definition not for a person’s own good.

    The pathetic creature of a magistrate of course boasted that he would have imposed a higher sentence if the law allowed it.

    We have undoubtedly already entered an extremely dangerous period to live in. We are no longer in the position of fearing a tyranny in the future. It has arrived.

  12. Apparently the police didn’t think of arresting or dispersing the mob

    As an interesting experiment, perhaps we should find out what would happen if a mob threatening violence were to turn up outside, say, the BBC Director General’s house. Would George Entwhistle be arrested and taken into custody “for his own protection”? Perhaps only if the mob in question were representing one of the specially protected castes – black, muslim, homosexual or disabled, say?

    On the Barry Thew case, should we regard it as a good or a bad sign that the police didn’t just kick seven shades out of him in the cells and then say it was self-inflicted (presumably like the black guy in the US recently who “shot himself in the head” despite having been searched twice, his hands ‘cuffed behind his back, and pushed into the back of a police car).

    • Back to ANPR cameras, I believe these are made in Seattle.They bounce an infra-red beam down from above which is reflected back up to the camera (and also scattered in all other directions) by all the little glass beads in your reflective number plates. All the camera sees is the reflective surface – the letters and numbers of course appear in slihouette and are read by Optical Character Recognition (just like your computer) and compared to the DVLA database. A moment’s thought will tell you that these cameras are very easy to fool. For instance, if you were to stick a line of yellow tape across the top of the rear number plate so that it touches the top of each letter, to the human eye this yellow tape would appear almost invisible, but to the ANPR camera it would appear black, rendering the whole sequence unintelligible as the camera would not recognise any part of the strange new symbol it was presented with. One can have a lot of sport with these things. Not that I would wish to encourage anybody to break the law of course …..

  13. The point I make is that, if these anpr cameras are an anti-crime measure as is claimed, then they must be hurting lots of criminals by pinning them down and noticing their movements. If they are so effective why are criminals not taking steps against them. If, say, a crim is going out of town to do a crime and has a nice alibi prepared at home then the anpr will spoil things if he uses his own car. If he steals one then he will also be flagged up. If crims were having their style cramped by the anpr system they would be taking steps against it–smashing cameras or offering a bounty of scag say, to get bottom of the barrell druggies on the job. Since nothing like this seems to be happening can it be that TPTB are noticing criminals and soft-peddling–doing nothing so the crims don’t start smashing their cameras thus leaving the state to get on with anprs real job=spying on ordinary people?. An interesting thought.

    • In reply to Mr Ecks (‘The point I make is that, if these anpr cameras are an anti-crime measure as is claimed, then they must be hurting lots of criminals by pinning them down and noticing their movements’), I have always been puzzled by the logic of the (Blair) govt’s line they they are “denying criminals the use of the roads”. But the camera will only identify the driver if he has the car correctly registered at his home address. If the police already know where the wanted man lives, wouldn’t it be easier to go & knock on his door rather than sit on the side of the road somewhere and wait to see if he drives by so they can chase after him?
      To reply to Randal’s point (‘The trouble with any measure that interferes with the operation of the cameras in this way is that is far too dangerous for routine use’), the penalty is a $60 (pound!) FP ticket. And I get away with it all the time. I have a figure 1 on one of my rear number plates which has ‘run’ to the top of the licence plate. I have covered this up with a piece of yellow tape so it looks fine to the naked eye. I’m not to know that it now looks like a T to the camera. There is no evidence of criminal intent. Yes, I grant you that it will probably get flagged but that is irrelevant if the camera is fixed and unmanned, and mobile cameras are few & far between. It’s been like that for years anyway & if it costs me 60 quid one day I shan’t complain.
      Actually that’s wrong, isn’t it – why would it get flagged? The cameras compare the lettering to the DVLA database and flag up any ‘wanted’ numbers (stolen, not on the insurance databse, etc), which mine isn’t, cos it doesn’t exist.

  14. Hugo Miller:

    For instance, if you were to stick a line of yellow tape across the top of the rear number plate so that it touches the top of each letter, to the human eye this yellow tape would appear almost invisible, but to the ANPR camera it would appear black, rendering the whole sequence unintelligible as the camera would not recognise any part of the strange new symbol it was presented with. One can have a lot of sport with these things. Not that I would wish to encourage anybody to break the law of course …..

    The trouble with any measure that interferes with the operation of the cameras in this way is that is far too dangerous for routine use. The anpr cameras operate in real time, and therefore any vehicle with a plate which cannot be read for any reason will be immediately flagged (in the case of the mobile cameras mounted in police cars there is an audible beep to alert the police driver to the vehicle concerned).

    You wouldn’t get away with driving a vehicle with an unreadable plate for long – perhaps only minutes in central London.

    And, of course, the police will throw infinite resources, and the book, at anyone involved in this kind of activity. They take it much more seriously than “ordinary crime” which just involves plebs getting beaten up, robbed or raped.

  15. If they are so effective why are criminals not taking steps against them.

    I suspect criminals just work around them – much easier and less dangerous than attracting the attention of the state security forces.

    Not focussed on anpr, but this page ought to be heart-warming for any libertarian anyway:


  16. Correct me if i’m wrong but doesn’t the US have something like a 98% conviction rate in their courts? Ofcourse this isn’t a good thing.

  17. The Federal Courts have an 80%+ conviction rate–mainly by plea bargaining ie: “You’ll get 5 life sentences if you plead Not Guilty and are found Guilty–so plead guilty to a lesser charge and be out in 20 years (with an arsehole like a carpet bag)”.
    The Fedreral Tyranny is now one of the worst goverments on Earth. The Founding Fathers (who were not themselves saints or blameless) must be spinning “in-grave” fast enough to constitute a major potential source of electric power.

  18. Actually that’s wrong, isn’t it – why would it get flagged?

    Because the system obviously flags up incorrect plates as well (that’s how my friend was pulled over). The assumption must be that once the networks are up and running and the resources are available, any unreadable or unrecognised plate will result in attention. Presumably it’s not that unusual to have a few damaged or dirty plates around that are unreadable anyway, and it’s probably not a priority to deal with that in the early stages.

    You obviously have a good cover story that will avoid you getting in serious trouble – once. But it can only be a matter of time before you get attention, since they have the capability to capture ordinary pictures of the car in question at the same time, so a human operator will immediately identify your registration plate and therefore your home address.

    It will be interesting to see how long it is before you get a letter. One way to track how far the systems and the resources manning them have come. Must depend a lot on how much and where you use your car, I suppose. Do you use it in the Congestion Charge zone? I would imagine preventing people getting away with not paying would be a fairly high priority, but since I avoid London as much as possible and haven’t driven there since before he charge came in, I’m not particularly familiar with its operation.

  19. If crims can avoid the ANPR then so can we all (for the most part).They won’t be able to keep their locations secret forever. The system will have to include more and more roads if it is to be of any real value and that will make it vulnerable. If every road has such a camera then any crim who wants to continue his trade without being limited to shank’s pony will have to take steps to de-commision their enemies eyes. They really can’t watch them all–esp as the money is running out.

    • In reply to Mr Ecks ‘If crims can avoid the ANPR then so can we all ‘ – this has never been about catching criminals – it is about monitoring ordinary people going about their daily business.
      And as for Randal’s ‘any unreadable or unrecognised plate will result in attention.’, I don’t know about that. I have various plates that are disfigured in various ways – one has a large area of the reflective backing missing where it has been removed from one vehicle and fitted to another (legally!) so there is a large unreadable smudge right in the middle of it. Been like that for years – probably since before ANPR’s existed. We have cameras everywhere in my part of the world but none have additional cameras to take a ‘human-friendly’ image of the vehicle, though I believe I have seen such a thing somewhere. All the ANPR’s see is the reflective area – all else is dark. I will let you know when I get my first ticket! I have other dodges which I am frankly scared to commit to print. I am not a habitual criminal, just going about my lawful business, but I resent being tracked everywhere I go by the government.

  20. No, Sean, sorry. The bastards will simply have to go. Examples will have to be made – exemplary ones. and sadly probably many, many hundreds, or even thousands. This sort of stuff can’t be allowed to recur – we have pussied about too long and are now seen as “not serious”: the sheer terror encompassing its cautical removal will need to be remembered for long enough for Mankind to get off The Earth so that this place is no longer the prime home, so any recurrence – which is probable – will be remembered and stamped on quickly.

  21. Hugo Miller: I know anpr is about watching us but my point was that, once the position of the anprs they have becomes known, then all of us, not just crims can drive around them. The only way to avoid that is to install more cameras on more, perhaps all, roads. But then so many cameras cannot be watched/guarded and become vulnerable.

  22. I have various plates that are disfigured in various ways

    I think the issue is probably resources. The network is still in the process of being set up and linked up, and there are still a lot of uninsured etc cars out there and few traffic patrols to deal with them.

    I remember reading a comment on a forum from years ago supposedly from someone who’d been in patrol in a car equipped with anpr and he said that they were just getting constant pings – too many to deal with. Maybe the equipment was malfunctioning or maybe there just are too many targets for the moment.

    As has often been the case in history, it’s the state’s resources that are the limiting factor, not the theoretical powers or capabilities.

    We have cameras everywhere in my part of the world but none have additional cameras to take a ‘human-friendly’ image of the vehicle

    I think the modern ones come in one housing, like these:


    That particular company alone has installations all over the country:


  23. UAVs –as the Americans have already discovered in a small way can be hacked and sent off course or the visual feed intercepted and used to spy on the spyer.. And, how long will it be before one crashes on some poor sods head and takes a life?.And they can only photograph certain angles–lots of plates etc will still be invisible. The state always thinks they have it all stitched up. But it that had ever been true Rome or Egypt would still be running the show.

  24. From a general perspective… If we make some not unreasonable assumptions, to whit that firstly it is a practical impossibility to stop the continued improvement and proliferation of surveillance technologies, and that they will become (at least effectively) too perfect to evade, is a Libertarian Panopticon possible? If we imagine for a moment a perfect (or near as makes no difference) panopticon, one great benefit and one great negative are immediately obvious; the great benefit is that crime will be impossible. The great negative is that crime will be impossible.

    I was musing some time back now about a novel (or graphic novel) about such a society. The worst possible scenario is an eternal, inescapable tyranny. But it is also possible to muse that, once nobody can get away with all the numerous little infractions we perpetrate- from buying a bit of dope, to paying a builder in cash, to having a lock-in at the local, to a couple of underage teenagers having a little nookie, then that might be the point when those laws actually become unacceptable to the population and are finally struck from the statute books. Perhaps we are already approaching this point, as more and more “nice, middle class” people find themselves treated in ways that once only happened to rastafarians in Brixton.

    I’ve often mused that one major problem with Britons is that we put up with things. We let these awful laws be passed, and then rather than demand they be struck down, find ways around them while tolerating their continued existence. The pub lock-in is a classic example of this. We get our little liberties “on the quiet”. Perhaps an efficient, successful surveillance state that prevents such petty evasions will finally convince Teh People that the laws they live under really are intolerable.

    Probably not, but you never know.

    • Ian B says “I’ve often mused that one major problem with Britons is that we put up with things.” I blame the weather. We are accustomed to grumbling about things (such as the british climate) which we cannot change whilst stoically putting up with them. In America after 9/11 some jobsworth bureaucrat noticed that an English woman who had been widowed by the tragedy was now ‘without status’ in the US. She was only allowed into the country on her husband’s visa and he was now dead. They threatened to deport her. If this had been Britain we would have no doubt watched as this poor woman was led from her home by the police and put on an aeroplane. We would have grumbled about the injustice and said “It’s a shame but the law is the law” and that would have been it. In America, however, the response was somewhat different; two senior holders of public office (one was the fire chief, the other I forget) offered to take turns to sit in her porch with a shotgun and said they will have to get past us before they can deport her; meanwhile her neighbours demanded of their Senators that the law be changed immediately to allow this unfortunate woman to stay – and it was.
      On a different topic, if the law were applied in every detail at all times I think life would be pretty uncomfortable. Goebbels wanted ‘total policing of sall the people all the time’. But what about this? – If you were to witness your friend drive drunkenly out of a pub car park and mow down and kill a small child, you would probably report him to the police and testify against him. If you witnessed the same person (while sober) exceeding the speed limit by a modest amount or parked illegally, you would probably ignore the offence. This is inconsistent. If the law is the democratically expressed will of the people, and ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’, we should all try to enforce all transgressions. The fact that we do not do so indicates that there are flaws in the system. We each have different ideas about which transgressions we would report and which we would ignore. A mother who reported her own child for committing a brutal attack would probably be regarded as public-spirited. But what about a bit of petty shoplifting? Where do you draw the line?

  25. Hugo, speed limits are based on old cars with much worse brakes. A modern car modestly exceeding the speed limit will be much safer than an older care under the speed limit. A drunk driving friend may be a danger to himself or others, a friend who runs over a child is a killer and, I would guess, no longer a friend.

  26. Well, that wasn’t relly the point I was trying to make – but – since you mention the subject of speed limits, these, in comon with such things as the ‘smoking ban’, are more about government control than anything else. Of course it is utterly ludicrous to determine a ‘safe’ speed that will apply to all drivers in all vehicles in all conditions. The message, however, is ‘just do what your wise government tells you and you will be fine’. Hit a child at 30 mph and he will just bounce off uninjured. At 32 mph he will be a mangled mess of flesh and bones and you will be a pariah for disregarding the government’s sound advice.
    Some Pikeys nicked the speed limit signs down our way recently, and a police officer was spouting in the local press about how dangerous this was, as people would no longer know how fast to drive and might kill themselves as a consequence. And he clearly believed this hogwash with all his heart, poor thing.

  27. It’s a very sad subject, meeting two people who were recently sacked when
    they were required a CRB check, one showed a minor conviction for fighting
    eight years ago, but was still sacked from his job, even the most diabolic jobs
    require a check now and even supermarkets are CBR checking shelf fillers,
    the F.O.I. act disclosures indicated last year there were cunrently 9 million
    convictions on the list of many people who are working age, it seems to work
    something like this, you go to court and get a fifty pound fine, which is the
    sentence in law, then a mad man like david blunket decides he is going to
    increase this minor matter to life without a job. Let me get to the honest
    point here, the police alleged I was an IRA member, might be if only I were
    Irish of course, I tried to sue them and they forged convictions and put false
    entries in the PCN, taped them doing it, and removing the false evidence
    on the phone, as you might expect our great british justice system lost and
    got rid of the files along with that criminal insitution the I.P.C.A. who altered
    the references so many times the evidence could not be traced. The serious
    point is this, police allegations are now finding their way into medical records
    and social security files, the DWP are now recordind all police records they
    have an officer in direct contact with the police and the Norwich Prison,all
    released prisoners, or people who do not turn up at the JCP are put on the
    data base, even if they have been to court and not found guilty, from what
    I witnessed, I am a photo-journalist, they are being subject to abuse and
    depravity of benefit, I went to JCP last week, met one just released, he has
    had no money for three weeks and had started to go a bit crazy, not surprising under the circumstances. There more serious point comes in the
    form of mortality inflicted by the state, I have had several attempts on my
    life, and effective death threats by doctors who seem to have a dislike towards the “provos” and like blocking access to treatment or health care,
    good job, I am a pg:Dilp in something, I did manage to do a small operation
    on my foot, and remove a small growth on my arm, perhaps you can now
    see how bad the situation is, I appreciate that many of you are concerned
    at the employment genocide being inflicted on people with any kind of record, but may I suggest you keep an eye on other areas such as the health
    service of DWP, if you have been involved in any attempt to sue the police
    or injured, the details will find their way into your records, guilty or not guilty,#
    the sad fact is many of the half wits who work in our health service suffer
    from comprehention retardation, falsely arrested becomes arrested and
    guilty, the abuse abuse cycles by G.P.’s and other staff will begin to snowball, I found myself in the care of an army nutter nurse, when she found
    the allegations in my notes, she falsely alleged I was a rapist, the climax
    to this was abuse and false notes in my medical records, you have been
    warned, be on your guard. you may not be able to work, but please try and stay alive at least.


  29. I know a person who had quit working as a social worker because an ex made false accusations against her. She was released with no charge a few hours later and later divorced on the grounds of her ex husband’s unreasonable behaviour which he admitted to. Nevertheless, the arrest for dv shows on her enhanced criminal record check and she has been told no agency will ever risk employing someone like her. She has no other convictions, cautions etc, not even a driving offence. She was going to do a PhD in social work, now she is stacking shelves at a supermarket.

    Crb is not meant to protect children but to protect agencies from paying compensation.

    At this rate England will be in great need of social workers, teachers and nurses from abroad as obviously their crb check are squeaky clean 😛

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