The obsession with using technology to solve social problems continues, despite all the evidence that while technological support can be useful, what social problems need is social solutions.

An especially unsettling example turned up last week, with a supplier to the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) proudly announcing that it's now "virtually impossible to drive a car into the centre [of Manchester] without having its licence plate, colour and time of entry recorded."

The scheme involves ringing the city with IP-based CCTV cameras, which use a wireless network to send back around 600,000 ANPR (automatic number place recognition) records a day, to be checked against police and DVLA records - and stored for five years!

The supplier continued, "The initiative by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is intended to reinforce the fight against crime, terrorism and vehicle theft."

Ah yes, the bogeyman of terrorism invoked to justify yet more intrusion into civil liberties.

ANPR certainly has some value, but it is a relatively low value and it relies on police officers being present. Then, it catches some of those stupid enough to think it's OK to drive without road tax or insurance, and some of those will also be stupid enough to think it's OK to burgle and commit other crimes.

But anyone with a bit more intelligence - or with better advisors - can simply fit their car with false or stolen plates carrying the number of a similar vehicle elsewhere. This technique is already used to evade the ANPR-based London congestion charge, for example. According to a BBC report, the police think that 40,000 sets of plates were stolen in 2006 alone.

Like the speed cameras now used around the country, the Manchester scheme - being fixed, rather than mobile - focuses on the low-hanging fruit, the easy targets. Potentially more important issues such as careless or drunk-driving are ignored.

On top of that is the potential for abuse, whether from within the state apparatus or without, and the near-certainty that there will be errors in the databases used for checks.

I'm sure it's making lots of money for the IT suppliers involved, and I'm sure the police will claim to have solved cases that they couldn't have solved without it, but it also takes us a step closer to the Surveillance State - and surely that can't be good, can it?