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Are you being watched? - The role of telematics in wide-area surveillance. 25/2/2004
Several years ago, Commander David Ray, Scotland Yard's then head of traffic policing said, while giving evidence to a Parliamentary Committee on road transport, that the evidence from proliferating roadside CCTV cameras could not be guaranteed to be used solely for the management of traffic. The implications of his words were clear. The police would use any and all legal means at their disposal in their fight against crime, never mind that some systems might have been set up and paid for, for an entirely different purpose.

Subsequent events have, if anything, strengthened the resolve of law enforcement agencies around the world to make full use of emerging technologies. Satellite, CCTV, computer and biological technologies have all been involved. So what role can intelligent transport systems in general and telematics in particular be expected to play in wide area surveillance?

Earlier this year, the European Commission issued a draft Directive requiring the adoption, by all member states intending to introduce road-user charging systems, of a GNSS-based (Global Navigation Satellite System) electronic tolling system by 2012. The draft Directive had little, if anything, to do with the need to keep tabs on the movement of private vehicles, except in so far as it was necessary to impose the appropriate road-user charge. The effect, however, is that if the Directive were to pass into European law, the means of tracking the movement of every single journey made within the European Union would be within the reach of the authorities.

At the moment, this is far from the case, even with the sophisticated DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) microwave tolling systems in use in several European, North American and Asian states. The absence of a common European or other international standard for DSRC at either 5.8 GHz (in Europe and Asia) or 5.9 GHz (in the USA), effectively rules out the ability to share information on the movement of suspect vehicles.

In Europe, the Galileo project - the European element of GNSS - has just been given the formal go-ahead. Two of its satellites have been launched and agreement has been reached with the Americans over issues of interoperability. There has also been agreement on co-operation with the Chinese government and the whole project is scheduled to become operational in 2008. All this means that the ability to deploy wide-area surveillance will shortly become feasible. And while, at the moment, only Germany and the UK are actively looking at satellite-based telematics, there is little doubt others will wish to join if the system is seen to work. This is particularly apposite since, within the last few days, the German government has pulled the plug on the consortium building the German satellite-based tolling system on the grounds that the technology was not yet up to the mark.

But satellite technology is only the beginning in the story of the ever increasing ability of the state to tap on the shoulders of its citizens. In The Netherlands, the Dutch Police are leading an EC funded project designed to allow European police forces access to each other's databases. The intention is to pursue motorists who commit traffic offences beyond the borders of their own country.

Project VERA2 (Video Enforcement for Road Authorities, 2nd phase) is aimed at the recovery of automatically imposed fines arising from offences detected by roadside cameras. While few could argue with the justness of the underlying principle, it is a short step from traffic violations to requests for the identity of foreign drivers who, for whatever reason, are of interest to the authorities. Oddly enough, in the case of VERA2, the process has been reversed with consideration being given to using European framework legislation designed to deal with major crime, for the recovery of fines in traffic offences.

"We are still in the early stages of VERA2," said Mark Wedlock of the Transport Research Laboratory in England, "and some way from the drafting of a European Memorandum of Use. But we think it ought to be possible to make use of this legislation to deal with the recovery of traffic fines."

But while enforcement cameras will only take images of vehicles whose drivers are alleged to have committed an offence, the same cannot be said of roadside CCTV systems. Advancing technology, coupled with the changing needs of transport engineers, means that cameras whose sole function used to be a watching brief over traffic conditions, are now increasingly being used for a wider remit.

In Stockholm, for example, a project funded under the auspices of the EC's CIVITAS Trendsetter programme, seeks to make a far wider use of the images of roadside CCTV cameras than was originally intended. Computer engineers have successfully merged the data-bases of around twenty separate systems to provide a detailed picture of traffic and transport throughout the city.

In July last year, TfL (Transport for London) asked for expressions of interest from companies wishing to be considered to upgrade the congestion charging enforcement technology. The technologies are expected to include digital cameras for roadside use, more advanced ANPR (automatic number plate reading) systems than those at present in use, and vehicle image processing to determine vehicle shape and class. Also in the list are spatial detection systems, intended to uniquely identify and position individual vehicles, in addition to obtaining their images. The systems and practices being put into effect in London are being watched with interest by other major cities throughout the world including New York, Chicago and Milan.

In the near future, the deployment of UWB (Ultra Wide-Band) wireless technology between roadside beacons and passing traffic will allow for the rapid interchange of data about traffic and weather conditions. The roadside transponder will interrogate passing traffic about its speed, whether lights are on or off, whether windscreen wipers are in use or not and so on. In the opposite direction, individual drivers will receive information about upcoming road and weather conditions. At the moment there are no plans to identify the vehicle providing the information but the ability to do so is currently available. Within five years, 50% of all new vehicles sold world-wide will be telematics-enabled and be able to be interrogated using UWB or DSRC protocols. As the years roll by, that percentage is confidently expected to rise.

At a recent conference in London, delegates were told that improved levels of security in modern vehicles was such that 60% of all vehicle thefts now involved the taking of the ignition key. Unable to prevent the theft of keys, insurance companies are now considering the imposition of additional safeguards as a pre-requisite to insurance cover. High on the list are tracking devices.

In the UK, the insurance industry's research and development organisation, Thatcham, has produced CAT 5, a telematics system that automatically follows and reports the route taken by a stolen vehicle, allowing for its recovery by the police. In Belgium and The Netherlands, a similar system has been developed by The Dutch Institute for the Certification of Vehicle Security Systems, the SCM and its Belgium equivalent, the BVVO. Presently confined to high-value cars, it is at least likely that the tracking requirement will, in future, be extended to all vehicles, further increasing the surveillance capability.

Of course, surveillance of the general population has grown but what is now being seen is the blurring of the edges between surveillance systems designed to prevent and detect crime and those whose original purpose was traffic related. In America, software loaded into traffic lights and originally introduced to police the transport of hazardous chemicals is now being used to detect the transfer of explosives and other terrorist paraphernalia. Provided society knows and understands the implications of these trends, there should be no difficulty.

For further information, contact:
Re: CAT 5 system:Alan Randle, Research Engineer, Thatcham.
Inspector Andrew Rooke, Sussex Police, Tel: #44 1273 475 432

Re: Belgium and Dutch tracking system
Tjip Koopmans, Director, SCM The Netherlands, Tel: #31 10 284 34 02, E-mail

Re: London congestion charging plans
Graham Goodwyn, TfL. Tel: #44 207 941 4607, E-mail:

Re: German tolling system
Hans-Christian Mass on Tel: +49 30 74077 2000 or E-mail:

Contact Mark Wedlock of TRL, Crowthorne, England, Tel: #44 1344 770 038, E-mail:

Re: Stockholm data-merging programme
1. Per Strömgren, Swedish National Road Administration, +46 8 757 66 00,
2. Helene Andersson, Stockholm Real Estate and Traffic Administration (GFK), +46 8 508 266 15,
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