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In the past 50 years, policing has undergone a major change as a result of the development of new technologies of telemetric surveillance. The new surveillant technologies, in theory at least, are perfectly accurate, tireless, produce photographic evidence, cost little to operate after installed, and may generate revenue through fines. Telemetric policing technologies move one step further, linking surveillance with electronic identification of offenses through built-in algorithms. In other words, they perform a police function by registering offenses and infractions directly. The information revolution has enormously enhanced the impact of this by embedding telemetric policing into a fully digital “simulated” justice wherein all phases of justice from detection to sentencing to expiation of sanction can be performed online. Telemetric policing with respect to traffic has been credited with reducing offending, rates of injury and death, and costs of policing. However, many of the advantages attributed to it have been challenged by conflicting data, and the instrumentation itself has proven fallible. Resistance has also focused on telemetric policing as merely revenue raising, on human rights grounds, fears of “Big Brother,” and demands for more personal forms of justice. Nevertheless, it continues to expand: new technologies allow automated intervention in vehicle control, and applications of the telemetric model may be extended to many minor public order infractions.
Telemetric Policing Distinguished
“Telemetrics” refers to measurement at a distance, and telemetric policing is thus an assemblage of actors, instruments, technologies, and so on that operates through the remote measurement of offending. It involves the electronic apparatuses of surveillance now familiar parts of everyday life: CCTV, traffic “safety cameras,” bar code readers, magnetic strips, RFIDs (radio frequency identification devices) and so on. Not all of these measure offending, or at least, not most of the time. CCTV, for example, usually operates as a “dumb” technology recording actions in its field of view but doing nothing with the images, which are accessed (if at all) when policing agents seek information. Tracking the movements of the London underground bombers via CCTV turned out to be an important means for identifying offenders. But this process relied upon live police agents scanning the hours of recordings. Even if aided by facial recognition software – important because it may improve the speed, reliability, and costs of police identification – the assemblage remains passive, merely recording specific presences or absences. Whether an offense has occurred remains a question for the interpretation and intervention of live policing agents. Such forms of policing technology have rightly been the focus of a considerable volume of research; they merge criminology with some of the most exciting new areas of social theory, and have given rise to an enormous volume of political attention and concern (Norris and Wilson 2006).
Because much of the development is quite recent, and perhaps because there is no clear cutoff point from what could be referred to as such surveillant policing, police telemetry has been subject to rather less attention. Yet when algorithms are built into the electronic platform of surveillance to register problematic identifiers (e.g., license numbers, passport chips) or patterns of action, a major step toward telemetric policing has been taken, into “automated surveillance” or “algorithmic surveillance” (Norris et al. 1999). The use of CCTV to identify patterns of movement associated with potential suicides on the subway, or processing of a variety of electronic identifiers on passports are two examples. With the former, the action identifies a risky pattern of action, alerting live agents and calling for intervention (Graham and Wood 2003: 236). It remains, however, merely a televisual record and live agents must both interpret and intervene. With the example of the passport, things become more complex. It may not simply be the identity of the passport holder that trips a risk switch, but a variety of other data linked to that identity through various data banks, algorithms, and so on. Amoore (2011), for example, outlines the ways in which algorithms modeled on those used in derivatives markets throw up alarms based on correlations between such factors as the previous patterns of travel, the traveler’s destination, or whether the airline ticket was paid for in cash. But while these are cutting edge surveillant technologies – venturing into a regime of estimations and suggestive possibilities – they still do no more than mobilize agents to investigate further.
Telemetric policing is achieved where one more step is taken, and the offense itself is identified through informatic calculation: by a machine deploying an algorithm, that does not necessitate the intervention of live agents. It is, literally, a policing machine (O’Malley 2010b). Policing agents may then be mobilized, for example, to effect apprehension of the offender, but identification of the offense has been carried out by the machine. One example that has received attention is electronic tagging of those under a restraining order forbidding access to or exit from certain spaces. Through satellite telemetry, any breach of the order – for example approaching too close to a schoolyard or a former spouse’s residence – can be registered automatically (Jones 2001). The offense may still have to be confirmed by later investigation. For example, if the subject fled the house because it was burning down. But as far as the policing process goes, the offense prima facie has been registered and apprehension and arrest normally will follow.
Yet while such forms of active surveillance are within the territory of telemetric policing, a still more familiar assemblage takes things one step further by dispensing with apprehension by police, at least in the vast majority of cases. The diverse systems of policing traffic through “safety cameras” – speed cameras, red-light cameras, point-to-point cameras, and so on register an offense through telemetry. They also issue a penalty notice in the form of a reverseonus money sanction (and/or issue license demerit points and license cancelation). In the vast majority of cases – generally well in excess of 90 % – the policing process is thus entirely operated through information technology, without the intervention of live agents. Where fines are paid electronically or by check through the mail, as is normal, no live agents have been involved even to the point of sanctioning: this is simulated justice (O’Malley 2010b).
An understanding of the nature, significance, and potential of telemetric policing is thus best effected through analysis of these traffic assemblages. Far from “trivial,” these operations of telemetric policing very likely constitute the bulk of citizens’ experience as subjects of police interventions. They result in the imposition of significant fines and/or license cancelation, and in the case of dangerous driving charges (or nonpayment of fines), quite possibly involve imprisonment.
The Rise Of Telemetric Policing
In 1935, a new innovation hit the streets of downtown St Louis, Missouri. Little more than a coindriven alarm clock on a pole, it contained within it the key elements of telemetric policing. The parking meter itself was the solution to a series of challenges. As downtown parking became an acute problem in the USA, it became necessary to optimize the circulation of traffic, shoppers, and workers. Parking time – limits were established early on, but these soon proved to present significant policing problems. Sworn officers were deployed to ensure that drivers did not overstay the time limits, primarily by chalking tires and returning to book those who infringed. This was expensive, absorbing a considerable amount of police time, but was made more so by its openness to dispute. Drivers claimed that tire marks were from some previous occasion and disputed the officers’ time calculations. Defense lawyers exploited every loophole and ambiguity. Police were taken off the beat to testify in court, adding considerably to the cost of policing, while vulnerability to contestation in prosecutions made for many other inefficiencies in policing (Fogelson 2001).
While parking meters did not sweep all these problems away, they had a major effect. It was far easier for infringements to be detected and established, police time was saved and court disputes over timelines and tire marks dropped away. The invention spread rapidly, and often the “objective” nature of the parking meter made it possible to displace expensive sworn police with cheaper “parking officers.” What had been an alarming demand for ever-growing volumes of police time was significantly curbed as policing had in key respects become automated. Telemetric justice of the twenty-first century can be seen simply as an electronic extension of this mechanical innovation, for it displaced police through the process of automatically registering an offense or infringement – albeit it that this still required policing intervention to record and process the matter.
Apart from the technology, a second aspect of this development was that citizens were paying on the spot for being policed. Fees and fines made this machine-governed process a form of self-funding regulation. The machines did not merely displace expensive police time; they produced revenue that could be used to fund more machines and other costs of enforcement. In principle therefore, it illustrates a key potential of telemetric policing: it is capable of almost infinite expansion. In pursuit of further economies and efficiencies in policing, a new generation of meters today takes timed and dated digital photos of the registration number of any vehicle overstaying a limit, and transmits this to a central computer that issues a fine. Even parking officers are displaced by virtual police: this is the maturation of telemetric policing. Indeed, a huge volume of policing already has become virtual in this way, transforming the policing not merely of parking but – in the name of public safety – of many “moving offenses” such as speeding, crossing double white lines, and running red lights (Fogelson 2001).
At the turn of the twentieth century speeding, dangerous driving and similar offenses presented problems similar to those giving birth to parking meters. The principal technology for assessing speeding was either the stopwatch, the subjective judgment of the police office, or the speedometer reading of a pursuit police cruiser. All were time consuming, and all were seen to require sworn officers – in good measure because all were easily and often challenged in court. Gaining convictions was difficult especially because motoring then was an elite activity. High status motorists faced courts often unwilling to proceed against such “reputable” citizens. As well, speeding was widely regarded as an illegitimate offense – a “tax on progress” and an excuse for revenue raising (Simon 1998). If charges of dangerous driving existed, then what could the justification be for merely speeding? Motorists’ organizations mounted further pressure, and motorists of the time could afford the best in legal representation. Failed prosecutions were frequent. So draining was this of police time, and so difficult to achieve success, that police avoided pressing charges: indeed the British Home office had to issue instructions that speeding had to be enforced (Plowden 1971).
The rise of the automobile as a prime feature of modern life exacerbated problems by vastly increasing the volume of offending. And if courts became more sympathetic to police, nevertheless police prosecutions still relied on primitive technologies of detection vulnerable to court challenge. From an early date, American states attempted to deal with this by establishing traffic courts with greatly simplified procedures. But speeding retained its status as a “merely technical” offense in the eyes of many. The great change in this respect – and vital to the rise of telemetric policing – was the rise during the 1970s of risk management as a widespread technique for government. During this period, alongside drink driving, speeding changed its character. Now increasingly it appeared not as a merely “technical” offense, but as an “objectively” demonstrable risk factor for traffic casualties (O’Malley 2010a). As the road toll emerged as a high-profile problem for governments at all levels, they mounted major campaigns against speeding and drink driving. This move was matched both with increased levels of policing and the application of new technologies. Most significantly at this time this meant mobile speed cameras in police cruisers, and within a few years, fixed speed cameras and more recently point-to-point cameras. The development of fixed speed cameras was a key step in the genealogy of telemetric policing: policing that was completely performed (not merely assisted) by remote electronic sensing devices.
It is important to recognize that telemetric policing was shaped by risk-based governance in two ways. First, by directly linking these offenses – especially speeding – to public safety by “objective” scientific means, a new strength was given to the morality of traffic law. Public and personal safety came to be “the” issue in a new and demonstrable fashion. Second, this moral jurisprudence was transformed by risk’s creation of a quantitative morality. Analysis of speeding and red-light violations in terms of risk calculation created a precisely measurable offense. As speed increased so too did risk and thus the moral wrongness of the offense. And with this went increases in the penalty. The new telemetric machines could not only simply detect offending, but also calculate seriousness of the offense. The next step, logically, is for them to calculate the penalty also.
Risk techniques and informatic technologies are thus vital to telematic policing. But no understanding of the phenomenon, its implications and resistances to it, is possible unless the crucial role of a third element – money penalties – is recognized. Because the penalty predominantly appears as “only money” rather than imprisonment (sidestepping liberal shibboleths of liberty and freedom), this has permitted a considerable streamlining of legal procedure (O’Malley 2010a). Even before the emergence of telemetric policing, the sheer volume of traffic offending led to a series of innovations aimed at speeding up the processing of cases, culminating in the “on the spot fine” or “infringement notice” in the 1960s. Their most salient features include a fixed monetary penalty and a reverseonus provision (Fox 1996). These innovations created the conditions of existence for telemetric policing to become part of “simulated justice” – that is, justice completely transacted in the virtual environment. Once fixed penalties apply, then a computer can receive the information transmitted by a camera – identifying vehicle and its precise speed – and calculate the penalty. The computer can then issue the infringement notice and email or mail it to the presumed offender. (Usually this is the registered owner of the vehicle. But even where the owner claims another to have been driving, this involves only a minor bureaucratic formality.) It is here that other key features of money come into play. Money is anonymous and can be digitized. Because one lot of money cannot be told from another, courts have had to allow that fines may be paid by someone other than the offender. This makes possible payment remotely, by check. In turn, because money can be digitized, it is a small step to allow payment through electronic banking. At this point, justice itself becomes virtual: electronic and informatic. But because, nevertheless, it retains its reality – imposing real sanctions on real people – the real and the virtual are identical: hence “simulated” justice (O’Malley 2010b).
In turn, the rise of simulated justice means that telemetric policing substantially displaces police from court appearance in relation to traffic offending. Apart from the reverse-onus assumption in infringement notices, incentives for offenders not to go to court are manifold. Fines paid promptly and without challenge are generally “rewarded” by a substantially discounted fine and often without a conviction being recorded. Money, trauma, and time are saved by transacting the whole matter remotely, and simulated justice virtually secures the public anonymity of the offender (Fox 1996). Again, little of this happened by accident: it was precisely the pressure of mounting police work and backlogs in processing cases that forced through this mode of justice to deal with what is, in effect, the principal modern form of mass disobedience to the law. Further, once set in motion, the process of growth becomes self-sustaining. As telemetric policing, operating 24/7 and with unwavering attention, can detect and process unprecedented numbers of offenses and infringements, so there is little choice for administrators but to expand the realm of simulated justice more or less in lockstep. Conversely, as simulated justice efficiently processes cases and generates revenue to fund itself, so telemetric policing encounters no obstacles to expansion arising from organizational problems of logistics. A world of infinite regulation opens up.
The Impact And Effectiveness Of Telemetric Policing
Governments and their agencies routinely promote telemetric policing in the traffic domain. Typical is the New South Wales Road Transport Authority (RTA 2012) in Australia that argues that “mobile speed cameras have been introduced because they are recognised internationally as a best practice road safety countermeasure to reduce speeding, leading to a reduction of crashes. The introduction of mobile speed programs in Queensland and Victoria has reduced casualty rates in those states by at least 25 %” (RTA 2012). With respect to fixed safety cameras – which may be speed cameras, red-light cameras, or both – the claim is made that “the use of cameras to enforce speeding has proven road safety benefits.” It points out that where cameras have been installed, there has been a 70 % reduction in speeding, resulting in a 90 % decline in fatalities and a 23 % reduction in injuries. These are very high estimates. In an international study, Thomas (2008) found that fixed cameras reduced the number of personal injury accidents by between 20 % and 25 %, figures that correspond to the findings of Gains’ (2005) analysis of UK camera sites, while Ercke and his colleagues’ (2009) international meta-analysis indicated a 35 % reduction in personal injury crashes. If these claims are taken at face value, then as noted, they are a powerful justification for rolling out even more widespread and sophisticated telemetric policing. However, there is no shortage of contradictory evidence. The most frequent challenges involve indications that data are far more varied and unclear than is admitted to be the case by police and road safety authorities.
One general criticism is that such figures ignore the effects of regression to the mean. In other words, cameras are installed in high accident areas, but accidents in such areas will tend to revert to the mean level even without any action being taken. Figures showing a reduction in accidents after installation rarely allow for this, and consequently exaggerate impacts (Mountain et al. 2005). Likewise, it is frequently argued that speed cameras displace traffic to other routes, and thus, their effectiveness in one site needs to be set against possible rises in accident frequencies elsewhere. This is argued to explain why, in many jurisdictions, traffic cameras are effective in specific locations but overall rates of accidents and casualties do not decline. Indeed, in some settings, speed cameras appear to have increased accident rates. One study reported that in Britain, 28,000 road accidents have been triggered by speed cameras as drivers slowed down ahead of them and then sped up once passed (Cavenagh 2008). The introduction of speed cameras and new speed limits in Australia’s Northern Territory was associated with a 36 % increase in road deaths, and in Cumbria, England, they were reported to have risen by 40 % after the introduction of speed cameras (Cavenagh 2008). A UK Ministry of Transport (2008) study showed a 55 % increase in injury accidents when speed cameras are used on highway work zones, and a 31 % increase when used on freeways where there were no road works. Likewise British government figures “showed for 32 speed camera sites there were an average of 48 more accidents involving death or serious injury” over the previous 12 months, while at 38 red-light camera sites, there had been an average of 62 more accidents (Williams 2005: 5).
In Britain, such evidence led to decisions by local councils in 2010 to scrap the widespread use of safety cameras because of doubts as to their effectiveness. Prior to this, in 2005, the UK government had blocked the installation of nearly 500 new speed cameras on the same grounds. The 38 traffic safety partnerships’ nationwide (involving local government and police forces) were ordered not to use cameras in any new sites (Wilson 2008). It is worthy of note that the Association of Chief Police Officers condemned this ban saying that it could cost lives because dangerous roads were being left unprotected by cameras (Webster 2011). As in Australia and other jurisdictions, police in England and Wales generally are heavily supportive of such telemetric policing. But this argument seems largely to have been ignored in the face of contradictory evidence.
As the British were winding back speed camera installation around 2010, other objections emerged in that country. It was reported that the Department for Transport was reviewing the rules on deploying cameras after concerns that partnerships had failed to consider alternatives such as improving junctions or erecting warnings. Even the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety had admitted that while it supported speed cameras, “in some cases partnerships may have chosen to install a camera when an engineering solution may have been better” (Ministry of Transport 2008). Findings by Mountain et al. (2005), for example, indicate that engineering solutions such as speed humps have twice the impact on lowering accident rates (44 %) than do speed cameras (22 %). It has been argued strongly by opponents that cameras represent a considerably cheaper and easier option than engineering – even if less effective – where concerns had arisen about accident rates. Indeed, in 2010, the UK Road Safety Minister stated that the government would cut funding because local governments had relied too heavily on safety cameras for too long, and the focus needed to be on other safety measures.
Red-light cameras have come in for an almost equal amount of criticism. Overall, research reports indicate that their benefits are mixed, with a tendency for right angle crashes (which are more often fatal and injurious) to decrease, but for tail-end accidents to increase significantly – largely attributed to drivers braking suddenly at camera-controlled intersections. However, some studies, including a 7-year study of red-light cameras in the District of Columbia, conclude there is no evidence of reductions in accidents or injuries, and there was evidence of significant increases in certain locales. As a result of such mixed findings, several US states that had installed red-light cameras abandoned the program, including Virginia and Hawaii, while an array of others banned their future use (Texas House of Representatives 2006).
Finally, claims to the success of speed cameras have been undermined by challenges on various technical grounds. Concerns have arisen around demonstration that individual speed cameras exaggerate recordings, resulting in unjustified prosecutions. In 2011, Alberta canceled around 100,000 speeding tickets issued in the previous 14 months due to concerns with the accuracy of equipment (Edmonton 2011). The switching-off of speed cameras on Melbourne’s Ring Road system in 2004 was the direct consequence of an admission by the government that possibly thousands of drivers had been fined as a result of faulty cameras.
By challenging the scientific standing of the jurisprudence of safety in key respects, these difficulties represent a major source of vulnerability of telemetric policing: its apparent objectivity and justification in safety. Perhaps precisely because telemetric traffic policing’s moral ground is that of safety, and because its techniques for producing safety are scientific technologies, in no other domain of justice does the practice of policing appear so vulnerable to empirical critiques of ineffectiveness.
As may be seen by reference to the history of speeding, without the justification of harm-minimization, telemetric policing and simulated justice may appear simply to tax motorists, and thus come to be regarded either as an unjust tax or as an implicitly illegitimate source of state revenue masquerading under a guise of security. Necessarily, this leads to a consideration of telemetric policing’s seemingly essential nexus with money sanctions. There could be a reasonable expectation that money sanctions would lessen resistance to telemetric policing, certainly compared with imprisonment. This would render them just another annoying but relatively trivial (for middle class offenders) cost of life in modern society. However, in this respect, fines have proved to be a vulnerable strategy. In the USA, in particular, campaigns around this issue were prominent among factors leading to cameras being turned off in Texas as early as the 1980s, and later in Arizona, Illinois, and Alaska (Texas House of Representative 2006: 6–8). In 2011, the New South Wales government banned further rollout of speed cameras and removed 38 out of 141 cameras after public complaints, because they were shown not to have contributed to safety and thus appeared merely as cash cows. Two of these cameras alone had generated in excess of $2 million in the previous year (The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 2011, p. 1).
Equally problematic has been the widespread use of arrangements with private security companies to install and operate safety cameras under contract. Commonly, governments would license companies to install and maintain cameras, placed according to official guidelines. In exchange, the company kept a certain proportion of the revenues generated. Unsurprisingly, this model generated very high levels of opposition, on the grounds that it was a direct inducement to maximize fines rather than produce road safety. In many jurisdictions, this practice has been curtailed and been replaced by funding private telemetric policing through fees paid by the relevant government. Even so, public opposition to private contractors operating speed camera systems remains high, and this was a factor in the curtailments to camera operations in Arizona during 2010.
It may be imagined that opposition to telemetric policing could rarely get coordinated: for offenders are widely dispersed geographically and are comparatively un-homogeneous – especially when compared with wealthy early motorists. All the more so, because their offending is not normally a matter of public record and visibility, being sheltered from the public gaze by the online environment of telemetric policing and simulated justice.
While rendering the subjects of telemetric policing publicly invisible, information technologies, especially the internet, unexpectedly have proven an important resource for opponents. Innumerable online discussion forums, blogs, online media publications, websites, and so on have sprung up, focusing on the issue of new traffic-tracking technologies. Such mobilizations are an example of a new form of political coordination that has emerged in a society seemingly fragmented and loosening its ties with identity politics. Separated from large-scale political movements, they form political groupings around single issues – such as telemetric policing – that, as Agamben (1993: 86) expresses it “form a community without affirming an identity.” Many of the objections to, and critiques of, speed and red-light cameras were generated, or contributed to, by online politics (O’Malley 2013). As Introna and Gibbons (2009: 238–239) argue, “a virtual network may be a powerful actor through the enactment of information politics.” They suggest that such information networks connect with traditional media and thus traditional politics becoming “an important element of resisting state surveillance practices.”
As could be predicted, and as O’Malley (2013) and Wells and Wills (2009) found, key themes of popular resistance were focused on the problems with the accuracy of the telemetry apparatus. Linked with this, many drivers and online opponents raised questions about the appropriateness of rigid and universal criteria of speed limits. Echoing arguments raised in a theoretical context by Wynne (1996), opponents argued that risk was very much shaped by local road and weather conditions, local knowledge of the road, and the skills of the driver. In effect, a counter-expertise was mobilized which drew upon local knowledge and contributed to critical assessments of the effectiveness and accuracy of the telemetric policing apparatus. Thus, while it may be easy to dismiss such resistance as merely based on anecdotal and “subjective” evidence, the findings reviewed earlier in this research paper indicate that there are effective and valid grounds for “local” opposition to universal expertise. As Wynne argues, even the categories of “lay” or “subjective,” when applied to such resistant views of risk, may be inherently problematic. Simply because universal knowledge always requires adjustment to specific contexts, he argues that the “local” is no less “expert” just because not based on questionable “universal” and “objective” data.
Apart from an information politics, forms of guerrilla action have emerged. Some activists began destroying cameras. In the UK, in Essex alone, six cameras were set on fire (with each unit costing an estimated GBP 24,000). In one instance, websites created a social bandit out of a figure named “Captain Gatso” (GATSOMETER is the name of a brand of speed camera) who grandly announced a struggle “against an unjust form of taxation” and threatened “increased operations across the country” (Khan 2003). A group called MAD (Motorists Against Detection) which reported itself as having a hard core of 200 members claimed responsibility for having destroyed 1,000 cameras since 2000. The group claimed to use internet chat forums, encrypted email, and pay-as-you-go phones to keep in touch and plan campaigns. In practice, this group may have involved only handful of isolated individuals, although news media estimated that some 700 cameras had been destroyed across the nation with particularly active cells in Wales and London. The importance of such accounts is not so much the reality of the threats they posed. It is, rather, the symbolic role they appeared to occupy in an active online opposition movement. This was mobilized primarily by the perception that money fines were an index of government agencies using the jurisprudence of risk as a cover for oppressive imposition of questionable universal standards and for thinly disguised revenue raising.
Even so, it could be imagined, telemetric policing would offer considerable attractions because it is objective and impersonal, a technical policing apparatus free from accusations of bias that frequently dog physical policing. As well, the procedures are streamlined and anonymous. However, Wells (2008) found that while her sample of speeding drivers objected to what they regarded as an unfair system of justice for all the reasons outlined above, in addition, they objected strenuously to the denial of a “voice.” That is, the fact that the automated nature of policing and justice effectively denied them the opportunity to put their side of things, to offer issues of mitigation, criticisms of the placement of cameras, denials that speeding in a specific site was dangerous and so on. Regardless of whether they believed in the opportunity to have their say would make any difference to the outcome, the loss of voice was seen to undermine the legitimacy of this form of justice.
Perhaps, more than any single issue, it might have been predicted that privacy, and also related human rights issues, would have been matters receiving most attention in public opposition and related politics. In the USA, such concerns have been raised as contributory concerns influencing several states (Arizona most recently) to wind back or even shut down camera systems. In part, more specific debates in the USA have been curtailed by argument stemming back to the case of Katz v. United States 389 US 347 (1967) that the Constitution does not protect the privacy of those who are engaged in breaking the law, and that there is no privacy interest in what is routinely and regularly displayed in public. Much the same argument is regularly aired in relation to cases before the European Court of Human Rights that found the Human Rights Act 1998 was not being violated where the owner of a vehicle was required to identify the driver in relation to a speeding offense.
Nevertheless, what is perhaps surprising is that issues of privacy and human rights comparatively rarely seem to be pushed by online and other opponents – unlike the issues of accuracy and revenue raising. Wells and Wills (2009), for example, found that in the array of issues objected to by drivers caught by automated speed cameras, privacy, civil rights, and “Big Brother” matters were not major concerns. This is also reflected in O’Malley’s (2013) findings in relation to analysis of internet sites dedicated to opposing safety cameras.
Futures Of Telemetric Policing
The uneven but marked success of campaigns against telemetric policing has focused in many ways on what could be seen as its perceived strengths: objectivity and impersonality, low cost to state budgets, the low profile of money sanctions, and the discourse of safety. This is more than simply an irony. It suggests that, apart from the matter of inaccurate recording of offenses, these are not simply technological glitches that are likely to be resolved. Rather they go to the heart of the features that make telemetric policing attractive to governments and police. It should therefore not be assumed that telemetric policing will simply advance inexorably. Additionally, new oppositions will spring up as the technology progresses. Two examples are significant.
First is Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA), where telemetric policing is enabled to intervene directly in offender behavior by taking over operation of vehicle speed and ignition controls. Such technology has existed for some years and is deployed by private vehicle fleets where warnings are transmitted to an offending vehicle and if ignored, the accelerator and/or brakes may be operated remotely. Of course, to allow for emergencies, these can temporarily be overridden by the driver – in much the same way that cruise control works – but in the event this override proves unjustified, a more serious offense may be registered. As well as speeding matters, erratic driving, red-light transgression, crossing double white lines, and so on are all capable of being governed in this fashion. In addition, it is already the case that stolen vehicles can be located and immobilized, a technology publicly available but not yet deployed widely by police. But in principle, all vehicles could be immobilized remotely for all manner of policing purposes. Such interventions, however, are unlikely to escape strong public reaction, and as the level of intervention escalates in this fashion, it would seem reasonable to expect that opposition would likewise become more concerted and widespread.
Second is the use of facial recognition technologies. While, once more, the technology is now well developed, many police forces have as yet abstained from introducing it in telemetric contexts – preferring to rely on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). In some instances, this self-imposed restriction has been to avoid an anticipated level of public outcry (O’Malley 2013). Here, privacy issues that so far have been rather muted may come more to the forefront. Certainly, the forces promoting such advances in technology are considerable. Not least are concerns that drivers accruing demerit points against their licenses may – policed by ANPR alone – be able to persuade (or pay) others to state that they were driving the detected vehicle. Thereby, dangerous drivers are not removed from the roads. But privacy commissions (NSW 2005) already have noted that the records of telemetric policing are unlikely to be restricted to the issues of traffic control to which they appear dedicated, and are likely to be fed into or linked with many other data bases tracking citizens in everyday life.
The outcome of these kinds of development is difficult to predict. Certainly the suspension and closure of many safety camera schemes should caution against simple assumptions that policing and security concerns will always trump citizen concern and resistance. Even so, some of the more concerning developments may be arising in areas where resistance may be more muted because they touch far less on the lives of the ostensibly respectable “average” citizen. As mentioned, most obvious among these has been the development of electronic tracking devices for offenders released into the community and/or who are subject to restrictions on their movement as part of other sanctions and orders. Yet other developments create new possibilities and new concerns.
The rise of telemetric policing was closely linked with the development of streamlined forms of procedure culminating in the infringement or penalty notice. While well in excess of 90 % of these notices are associated with traffic issues, penalty notices have been extended to govern many kinds of civil and criminal transgression. Lansdell et al. (2012), for example, record 120 agencies with the power to issue notices with respect to 2,000 kinds of infringement in the Australian state of Victoria alone. They also note the widening use of such notices with respect to minor public order offenses, and elsewhere in Australia, it has been noted approvingly that such developments are extremely cost-effective for police (NSWLRC 2010: 145). Of course, the ongoing spread of penalty notices does not imply the necessary growth and extension of telemetric policing per se. However, the further development and implementation of, for example, face-recognition technologies in CCTV begins to open out new directions in telemetric policing in relation to public order offenses. While identification of rioters in recent UK civil disturbances has been mediated by live agents aided by facial recognition software, it is not a huge step for more minor offending to be handled in much the same telemetric way as traffic infractions. This should not be thought of as fanciful. The inducements to the wrongdoer offered by a penalty notice scheme have been seen with traffic issues to be a powerful factor in reducing challenges in court settings, and this assemblage already operates in other aspects of “street justice” (Slapper 2010). Resistance to telemetric policing may thus be overtaken by inertia, lack of resources, and representation. Likewise, while alleged inaccuracies in identification have been effective in some traffic instances, this has been uneven and the advance of telemetric traffic policing has generally extended over the past decade: the same could well be true for facial recognition in telemetry. Telemetric policing of moving traffic appeared fanciful 30 years ago, yet within 10 years, it had become normal in many jurisdictions. As “criminal” law and civil law become increasingly blurred around questions of low-level public disorder (Crawford 2009; Lansdell et al. 2012), and as the intake of increasing numbers of public disobedience infringements consequently expands – as happened with traffic – it would not be at all surprising to see innovations in this telemetric direction within the next few years.
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