03 January 2006

Alarm over bid to track drivers' movements

Belfast Telegraph

By Michael McHugh
03 January 2006

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A war of words over police surveillance broke out yesterday following news that drivers' movements could be monitored by the security forces.

Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff believes the technology - which can read number plates at locations across Ulster - will infringe on civil liberties.

But traffic police insist that law-abiding motorists have nothing to fear.

The UK-wide system, due to be rolled out to Northern Ireland, will use cameras on the roadside as well as in petrol stations and car parks.

Information could be held for up to five years in a central database.

West Tyrone MLA McElduff expressed his alarm, stating: "This is an invasion of privacy and an abuse of people's civil liberties.

"What is this information going to be used for and into whose hands will the information fall?"

A new national data centre of vehicle movements will form the basis of the sophisticated surveillance tool that lies at the heart of an operation designed to drive criminals off the road.

It will gather data on the movements and associations of organised gangs and terrorist suspects whenever they use cars, vans or motorcycles.

Mr McElduff added: "This is Big Brother at its worst. I think there is always the presumption that government is right but it can be wrong and in many cases they create the problem."

Senior police officers have described the new surveillance network as possibly the biggest advance in the technology of crime detection and prevention since the introduction of DNA fingerprinting.

Chief Inspector Douglas Hogg, in charge of PSNI traffic policing in the rural division, believes the development offers unprecedented crime-solving opportunities.

"Initially the system will be introduced in relation to road traffic work like catching people who drive with no insurance," he said.

"All it really means is an extension of the automatic number plate readers which we already have.

"It is not to monitor people's movements, it is all aimed at people with a criminal background."

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