The UK's Times has reported that a nationwide system of cameras will be used to spy on British motorists. A database in north London will hold the details of millions of British drivers' journeys as recorded by thousands of ANPR - Automated Numberplate Recognition - camera systems seeded on motorways across the country. City-centre and filling station cameras are also being integrated into the system.

The database is stored in an NADC - National ANPR Data Centre - next to the Metropolitan Police training centre in Hendon. Some 35 million numberplates will be recorded each day with details of the time and location.

Vehicles that are uninsured or recorded as belonging to drivers wanted by the police will be made known to operators by the system. According to the report, Frank Whiteley, Hertfordshire's Chief Constable and chairman of a chief constables’ steering committee, said: “What the data centre should be able to tell you is where a vehicle was in the past and where it is now, whether it was or was not at a particular location and the routes taken to and from those crime scenes.”

Why do the police want this information? “In simple terms criminals use vehicles. If you want to commit a crime you’re going to use a vehicle.” The system, potentially as revolutionary as DNA testing, forms the basis of a 24-by-7 vehicle movement database that will revolutionise arrest, intelligence and crime investigation opportunities on a national basis."

The Liberty human rights organisation calls it a "gross invasion of privacy."

This ANPR Information, Intelligence and Technology Strategy system has already been used in counter-terrorist operations.

According to The Register the nationwide ANPR system can run database checks on 3,600 numberplates per hour. But the Times report uncovered vastly higher database check rates. It quotes these figures:

- 32m vehicle records are held by the DVLA
- 39m people licensed to drive
- 5.8m criminal records held by police
- 12,000 drivers are currently disqualified
- 2,000,000 vehicles “of interest” to the police
- 8,000,000 records per second that can be scanned by computer
- £25,000,000 size of Home Office grant for ANPR.

Numberplate records will be kept for two years. This implies that the database will hold 25.55 billion records two years from it being switched on. A database check rate of 8 million records a second demands some outstandingly efficient data storage, retrieval and search hardware and software. We're talking about a nationwide data warehouse and mining set-up. This technology is the kind used by the US Department of Homeland Security in its identity checks on people.

A source comments: "Based on the statistics listed on page 2 of the (Times report), the identity of the companies involved in this project can be deduced. In my opinion, there are three companies supplying software, hardware and networking for this project: AXS-One, Sun Microsystems and BT."

"The tip-off has to be the search speed listed: 8 million records scanned per second. AXS-One introduced a patent-pending search process last summer capable of those speeds utilizing off-the-shelf hardware, and capable of being increased with the addition of grid servers. This combination is likely due to both Sun and BT being strategic partners with AXS-One."

AXS-One's Rapid-AXS software searches 10 million e-mail records in 2-3 seconds. It is used in AXS-One's Compliance Platform 3.5 which offers search facilities through an archive in order for organisations to respond to enquiries from compliance regulators and also legal discovery requests. AXS-One documentation states: 'The AXS-One Compliance Platform is an integrated solution designed to securely archive and manage virtually all electronic records, including e-mail and instant messages, regardless of originating platform." AXS-One has become a strategic partner of Sun, which company is adopting its products.

In a reported comment said to be from AXS-One's Managing Director, Mark Donkersley, he said: "Keeping records of traffic on millions of private emails, text messages and mobile phone calls isn't new. The technology to store volumes of electronic data has existed for years and is expanding to encompass an ever-wider variety of data."

"By capturing ... information and storing it in a centralised, electronic repository, it reduces the physical storage impact and provides intelligent search and retrieval capabilities within seconds. This element is crucial – the ability to search and retrieve archived data instantly and efficiently – as there’s no value in storing masses of data if it cannot be searched and retrieved on demand."

The Police strategy concerning ANPR and NADC can be read here It makes disquieting reading. The concept of mass surveillance of British motorists on motorways, in filling stations and city centres, as a matter of course, is something that will be objectionable to many, if not most, believers in the traditional British way of life. Having Police chiefs gleefully hack away at civil liberties in this wholesale manner without any debate worthy of the name whatsoever is, to my mind, shameful. What have our MPS been doing? Where is the oversight Parliament ought to be exerting over these 'big brothers'?