August 10, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Big Brother is tracking you

Wired reports on a Department for Transport pilot scheme to test RFID chipped car numberplates here in the UK, with battery powered chips that can broadcast their identity up to 300ft. Considering that we don't have that many toll bridges or roads here, and the congestion charge is limited to London, I wonder what the justification for this would be. What problem do we have that RFID chipped plates would solve?

If they want to use RFID chips to allow people to pay bridge tolls or the congestion charge, why make them embedded in the number plate and not a hand-held device one could leave in the glove compartment or transfer from car to car? If it's about geolocation of stolen cars, well, we already have transponders you can buy that can do that for you.

So what is it about? Identifying speeding motorists as they go past speed cameras? Would the rise in income from fines justify the cost of chipping 25 million cars on our roads? Or is this about location and prosecution of tax and insurance evasion? Trouble is, the DVLA claim they can do from their desks now just by checking their database, so that's not a compelling argument either.

So let's see: The government are wasting our money testing an expensive solution that doesn't actually solve any real problems and which no one in their right minds would want. If they tell us it's for 'security' and to 'crack down on terror'... well, words fail me.

Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.

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Comments (8)

  1. Craig:
    Feb 06, 2007 at 05:26 PM

    It is so the goverment can pay for this >>

  2. Ray:
    Dec 28, 2006 at 04:47 AM

    I think it's not all that bad for tracking a vehicle, because you can have that installed on your vehicles to track it yourself. It can also be for security reasons why you would like your vehicle tracked, but for the government to do it without you wanting it could be a problem.

  3. Suw:
    Sep 08, 2005 at 12:02 AM

    The 25 million figure is a rough estimate of the number of cars on the road that could potentially be chipped, not the number of cars in the trial. The number of cars in the trial is not stated.

  4. Brian Drury:
    Sep 09, 2005 at 01:58 PM

    We are already having our number plates tracked, see:

    Worse than that, you can also be fingerprinted as a result, see:,39024677,39145037,00.htm

  5. Brian Drury:
    Sep 13, 2005 at 10:16 AM

    Here is a Home Office document on the subject of

    Denying criminals the use of the road

  6. Brian Drury:
    Sep 20, 2005 at 09:06 AM

    And the next step is for the government to put a camera into your car, so that any other cars seen by it can be tracked.

    Camera spies in million cars to trap toll cheats

  7. Ben:
    Feb 17, 2006 at 07:05 PM

    I think the intention is to enable road charging to roll out across the UK on all (or most) roads. The fact that road charging and tolls only exist on a small scale currently is therefore not a reason to resist some kind of system for enabling more. Presumably the cameras for monitoring the London congestion charge are expensive and not amazingly reliable, and they are quite ugly too. If a nationwide road charging system were to use the same technology, there would be considerable resistance on the grounds of taste!

    However it seems to me a better way to do this is allow the car to track its own position with GPS and/or RFID tags in the road and readers in the vehicles. It could keep a database in the vehicle and work out how much the driver should pay. No need for centralised tracking, and we get a way to finally sort out the UK's transport problems equitably.

    In any case, congestion/pollution/road law breaking/road safety *are* real problems and efforts to address them should not be resisted on principle.

  8. matt:
    Sep 07, 2005 at 02:39 PM

    Where in the Wired report says that the UK trial would be of the scale of 25 million cars?