Road pricing, ID cards and Big Brother

20 July 2005

Speed camera
Plenty of observers have suggested that Alistair Darling’s proposed road-pricing initiative will raise revenues in two ways. Firstly, there will be the straightforward charges imposed for simply crawling along in rush-hour traffic, popping out to the shops, or taking an injured rabbit to the vet. The rights and wrongs of such charges have been widely debated.
The second, and more pernicious means of raising revenue, will be to impose fines on speeding motorists. Darling’s plan calls for GPS units to be fitted to cars, capable of detecting where the car is and when, so that usage of the road between rabbit hutch and vet’s surgery can be measured, costed, and charged. The running tally of where the car is and when will also provide data about speed - sufficient to tell if the bunny-saving mercy-mission was taken at an amble or a sprint. It’s little surprise that the prospect of round-the-clock speed surveillance has gone down like a plutonium poo among motoring enthusiasts.
But worse could be on the way.
There is the distinct possibility of a connection between Darling’s Draconian proposals and that other great liberty-lynching plan of the day: identity cards.
Darling’s scheme is still indistinct, but ID cards are a firmer plan, based around smartcards capable of being quizzed by a computer to verify identity.
It seems very likely that if and when road-pricing black boxes are mandated for all UK vehicles, the little beggars will have a slot in the front for your ID card. Fail to prove who you are, and the car won’t start.
This scenario will have a host of practical benefits. It will make it clear who should pay the road pricing bill. It will make it unambiguous who needs to be fined and have points put on their licence when illegal speeding is detected. It will cut car theft, help the authorities track suspects, and prevent disqualified drivers from breaking their ban.
There will, of course, be a slight loss of privacy. A minor erosion of the basic human right to freedom of movement.
Nothing to worry about there, then...

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