In many cities it's almost impossible to walk around without your movements being recorded by surveillance cameras. In fact, driving anywhere in Britain means having a picture of your car and license plate being snapped multiple times per journey. But what if you were being tracked from space, by satellite? It sounds spooky, but it’s now a reality in some parts of the world. A trial program of a new speed camera system in Britain dubbed “SpeedSpike” has led some media to proclaim it an even deeper descent into a "Big Brother" society while decrying the technology as an invasion of privacy.
The Slippery Slope
The technology, explains Andy Howard, head of road safety at U.K. motoring group AA, is not quite as sinister as it might sound. "It's just a normal speed camera," he says, but one that is hooked up to a network of speed cameras that use GPS satellites to track their locations, rather than directly tracking a driver's route. Every time a car is photographed by one of the speed cameras, the time is recorded, and then the system calculates the average speed between two cameras to determine whether the driver was speeding.
"Theoretically, you could guard every entrance to a town and see if anyone averaged 30 mph inside," Howard said. "But we don't think this is likely."
Watch your speed while in these fast cars.
It would be "mathematically difficult" to calculate if a motorist has broken speeding laws if they'd traveled through multiple speed zones, according to Howard, like driving from a 45 mph limit to a 70 mph zone on a highway. The technology would be most applicable on a long-distance run along a single highway, say, from London to Edinburgh.
"We already have 'average-speed' cameras through roadworks (construction zones). Cameras snap your license plate as you go in and as you go out," he said. These cameras have been in service recording driver information since 2000. The only difference is that while these cameras are connected by wire, the new cameras would use GPS.
“A Bit Iffy”
Though the prospect of cameras that track speeds by calculating distance over time has long been discussed in British motoring circles, the new GPS satellite angle has caused quite a stir.
The responses we garnered from U.K. motorists when they were informed of the new satellite tracking experiment were uniformly negative. This instinctive recoil strengthened when I mentioned that a unit of an American company, Tennessee-based PIPS Technology, is the one implementing SpeedSpike. PIPS did not respond to requests for comment. Similarly, the British government said it does not comment on trials that are still underway.
Dylan Sharpe, the campaign director of U.K.-based Big Brother Watch, told AOL: "We're very much opposed to more surveillance. The government now knows exactly where we've been and how much we drive.
"We've had GPS systems, sat-nav systems, it was only a matter of time before an agency worked out how to [use] GPS [to] track cars and their speed.”
But Howard says any data collected by the system and the transmission of driver information is regulated by the government, so "if you have the right guidelines and rules then the system wouldn't be inappropriate.
" Support for regular speed cameras across the U.K. runs between 69 and 74 percent, according to AA's figures. So while there are undoubtedly concerns over the spread of this sort of speed camera tracking, it seems as if the general public -- and the media -- are perhaps being just a little myopic on the issue.