Alistair Darling hypes up his mass surveillance road toll plans, again

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Several Sunday newspapers have picked up on The Independent on Sunday's interview with Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, who is again hyping up his plan revealed last July for "satellite tracking road tolls" over the whole country.

Yet again a NuLabour Minister is grasping at unproven technology as a magic fix for social problems.

See our comments on this plan when it was revealed last July: "Alistair Darling's satellite tracking road toll plans - another Big Brother surveillance system"

The Road Pricing Feasibility Study is available on the Department of Transport's website.

Where are the privacy safeguards with this plan ? Where is the consultation with the people ? Where are the alternative plans and solutions to traffic congestion ?

The media has only ever reported this plan from a transport or environmental viewpoint, and not from the very obvious dangers to privacy and civil liberties of the vast majority of law abiding motorists.

Nobody can be trusted with such a powerful mass surveillance infrastructure.

The Germans have had huge difficulties with their lorries only, motorways only, toll scheme using a combination of GPS and roadside radio beacons.

The London Congestion Charge shows the incompetence of the privatised back end payment and enforcement operators - over a million unpaid penalty tickets for a tiny area of central London !

GPS signals certainly do not cover all of the road network, there are lots of "black spots" where the direct view to 4 satellites is blocked by buildings or trees.

The media have also consistently given the misleading impression that the "satellite tracking" somehow involves sending a signal up to a satellite in orbit, when the only signals are beamed down from orbit. The GPS satellite knows nothing of your GPS receiver's actual position.

Any "offline" In-Car-Unit which decrements the amount of pre-paid road toll according to GPS signals will:

  1. be defrauded by simple devices which re-broadcast much stronger spoof GPS location signals, pretending to be stationary or in a low charge zone. These are much simpler devices than the ones people already pay money for to get pirate satellite or cable TV programs, so a new black market will be created.

  2. be vulnerable to rogue transmitters sending out spoofing signals which fool the In-Car-Unit into assuming that it is in a high toll charge zone - how are most people ever going to be able to dispute such false toll charges ?

Any "online" combined GPS/Mobile phone type In-Car-Unit is directly equivalent to the technology of Electronic Tagging of Criminals, which does seem to be the attitude of the Government to the public.

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Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Alistair Darling hypes up his mass surveillance road toll plans, again.

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The other day I pointed out how, once you have a government in possession of a National Identity Register, it was possible for people's civil liberties to slowly and quietly slip away over time without them ever realising it until it was too late. I... Read More

Alistair Darling's spin machine seems to have flooded most of the Sunday broadsheets and the TV news with his dubious satellite tracking road toll / mass surveillance plan, which surfaced last year. Spy Blog has more about some of the... Read More

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport seems to be re-launching his controversial satellite tracking based national road toll scheme. This is not just a few more toll stations on motorways, but is intended to cover the entire country,... Read More


I am somewhat alarmed that no-one in the mainstream media seems to have brought up the privacy issue. Does no-one wonder how safe the data would be (not very), and under what circumstances would future governments feel able to use it?

It seems, btw, that Mr Darling has been putting out this idea since mid-2002 or even earlier.

The plan was probably hatched as part of the justification for GALILEO the European Union funded rival to the USA NAVSTAR and the Russian Russian Federation GLONASS Global Postioning Satellite systems.

We will be keeping a watch out for any Ministry of Transport civil servants or advisors , and of, course, ex-Ministers, who end up lobbying for GALILEO or other companies who stand to make billions out of this scheme.

Since when did the mainstream media care very much about your privacy ?

US military GPS satellites never orbit above +54 degrees north. That is, they never go above the lake district. From there on, all you see are ones to the south, getting progressively lower in the sky, and ones popping up in the north. This has two consequences. First, you get an exceedingly accurate fix on the northern plains of places like siberian tundra. Second, you get an awful fix in towns, as no satellite is ever vertical. Maybe scotland will be a bastion of privacy -no ID cards, no GPS tracking.

Another issue with the media reporting is that "a successful trial" is reported as a sign that a technology, be it ID cards or GPS-controlled speed limits, is ready for prime time. In "a trial", a group of self-selected people who have no need to subvert the system are demonstrated as not having subverted the technology. That is not a success. A success would be if people who had a financial incentive to subvert the tech to avoid payment, speeding tickets (ubiquitous speed traps would be a side effect of this, wouldnt they: your car would report you), or actual identification. Look at all the attacks on the london fee zone as an example: copied car plates, foreign cars, etc.

This is an outrage. The gas tax accomplishes the same thing, with the added benefit of encouraging fuel-efficient cars. These left-wing a**hole legislators have sold out both the environment and civil liberties in their greed for more taxes.

Steve Loughran probably knows more about GPS than I do. God knows, that wouldn't be difficult.

But I am pretty sure that the GPS receiver on my boat doesn't have any problem telling me which side of the Marina pontoon I've berthed onto - a distance of perhaps six to eight feet.

So it's not a simple as that, as usual.

My mobile phone sized GPS receiver also gives similar levels of accuracy, when it has a direct line of sight to 4 satellites, a process which can take 5 minutes or so from switching it on, during which time which you can travel quite a distance in a car or on a motorbike.

Nevertheless, it simply is not reliable enough to plot a journey say from the M25 into the centre of London, as there are many tall buildings, many not so tall buildings but narrow streets, overhanging trees etc. which really do come into play because of the latitude of the UK, and as Steve says, because there are no GPS satellites almost vertically above the UK. This is not usually a problem for a boat, even in harbour, unless it is on the north shore of Scotland etc.

This may change somewhat in the future with GALILEO, but even so there are going to be plenty of "blackspots" which also coincide with traffic congestion

That is why several commercial vehicle tracking systems use their own dedicated radio beacons for position fixes in cities (mobile phone cell location data is not accurate enough to help delivery drivers, or to provide security for armoured vans, let alone to enforce road tolls or criminal electronic tagging, and the coverage even in cities is also not 100% due to tall buildings, metallised windows etc.), but none of these have ever been scaled up to cope with 30 million vehicles simultaneously.

If the Department of Transport was only talking about Motorway tolls, that would be a huge challenge, but they are insanely plotting total surveillance of everything.

Maybe they plan to abuse the 150,000 lampposts:

£1.34 a mile at 70 miles an hour equates to over £93 an hour ! Any savings in fuel tax or vehicle duty are only going to be £2 or £3 pounds an hour. I refuse to believe that the scheme will be "revenue neutral"

What happens if you are delayed by a road accident or congestion and a section of road switches over to a premium toll rate ? Will your insurance premiums go up as people sue the insurance companies of those involved in the accident that causes them to incurr extra toll charges ?

You can already see people speeding and jumping lights to avoid a measly £5 charge when the London Congestion Charge kicks in.

Where has NO2ID website gone? had technical problems since yesterday evening, but it seems to be back online now. I have been assured that it was not under Denial of Service attack.

Hello to the group,
sorry if this seems a negative message, but before I start posting
messages about specific ways to fool gps systems I think it's best if
I invite any interested people to a new group I have set up called
GPShacking, which can be found using the directory search function.

I've made a black box which fits in between a gps receiver and a pc
or palmtop that's running some mapping software and lets you change
your position on the map at the touch of a button.

It could also work when fitted to cars with telematic and vehicle
tracking equipment, though experimentation in that area should be the
sole responsibility of the vehicles owner.

I wish to extend my welcome in advance to everyone who joins the
group, and am looking forward to extending ideas surrounding this
topic, which may be more relevant to UK members at the moment in
light of the recent announcement to introduce gps based congestion
charging methods.

Best Regards
Chris Barron

A lot of companies in US rely on vehicle tracking and a lot application service providers emerged, such as TrackYourTruck to provide this service to companies.
The service is close to be an utility and the purpose is business only - better logistic equal to better service.
However the fear of losing privacy still remains.

Folks, get your facts right.

1. GPS works at any latitude/longitude
2. To spoof GPS takes equipment costing ~£30,000. I know, I've got one.
3. To interrupt the GPS signal between the GPS device and the charging system is all very clever in theory, but that overlooks one small important fact, don't you think the boxes will be sealed? Also, it's not difficult to put the GPS processing and the charging system on the same chip, thus rendering hacking virtually impossible.

The easiest way to fool the system is to cover the antenna. They will then need roadside monitoring stations like speed cameras to check your system is working, and this will cost millions. Yey great, higher taxes to cover it, and everyone pays more to companies like mine to develop the technology. Cheers folks!

@ Happy -

>1. GPS works at any latitude/longitude

It simply does *not* work reliably in all the "dead zones" within our urban environments where there is no clear view of 4 GPS satellites. That is why all the commercial vehicle tracking systems have to use other technologies instead or in addition.

>2. To spoof GPS takes equipment costing
>~£30,000. I know, I've got one.

Maybe you have some prodessional equipment which costs that much, but I doubt if it was designed to spoof or replay a GPS signal just for a single in vehicle unit. If it was then you have been overcharged !

>3. To interrupt the GPS signal between the GPS
>device and the charging system is all very
>clever in theory, but that overlooks one small
>important fact, don't you think the boxes will
>be sealed?

That is irrelevant. The unstoppable man-in-the-middle attack is between the GPS signal and the antenna.

>Also, it's not difficult to put the GPS
>processing and the charging system on the
>same chip, thus rendering hacking virtually

Sealing the "electronic money" part of the system into the unit could actually make it even more vulnerable to "hacking". There will have to be a way to change the prices or times or locations of any toll system, so unless every in vehicle unit has to be sent back to the factory every time the government tinkers with the taxes, there will be a way of re-programming these units, which will almost certainly be vulnerable to abuse.

You just have to look at the "pirate" Satellite or Cable TV decoder electronics market to see that people will commercially supply the demand for cheap GPS spoofing or replay units , once there is a potentil mass market of 30 million or so vehicles inflicted with such NuLabour surveillance devices.

>The easiest way to fool the system is to cover
>the antenna.

Obviously, given the weakness of the GPS signals and that the in- vehicle GPS unit has no way of telling a genuine signal from a spoofed or replayed one.

How would you prevent whole areas from being subjected to Denial of Service attack GPS signal jamming ?

>They will then need roadside monitoring stations
>like speed cameras to check your system is
>working, and this will cost millions.

We already have these on the roads right now. The front end number plate / location time date logging technology is easy. However, systems like the London Congestion Charge or even the German Motorway tolls have proved just how useless and unfair the back end systems for enforcing fines are. They seem to be as much about grabbing as much revenue as possible from the public, as any sort of proper road management. This will be magnified by orders of magnitude if Darling's plans ever get implemented.

>Yey great, higher taxes to cover it, and
>everyone pays more to companies like mine to
>develop the technology. Cheers folks!

Not if we can influence the politicians to drop these mass surveillance plans.


@ SIMON - iz u a gangsta ?

I worked for a company many years ago that used a satelite tracking system to keep a check on the location of mobile personnel(StarTrak I think it was called!?). Experimenting by staff led to the discovery that covering the receiver / transceiver with oily rags / tin foil had an effect, as did unplugging the control unit, which could then be plugged back in again and reqiuired an engineer to reset the hung device!

I worked for a company many years ago that used a satelite tracking system to keep a check on the location of mobile personnel(StarTrak I think it was called!?). Experimenting by staff led to the discovery that covering the receiver / transceiver with oily rags / tin foil had an effect, as did unplugging the control unit, which could then be plugged back in again and reqiuired an engineer to reset the hung device!

I will, without any conscience, do what ever I can, even if it means physical violence, to fight this to my end.

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This United Kingdom based blog attempts to draw public attention to, and comments on, some of the current trends in ever cheaper and more widespread surveillance technology being deployed to satisfy the rapacious demand by state and corporate bureaucracies and criminals for your private details, and the technological ignorance of our politicians and civil servants who frame our legal systems.

The hope is that you the readers, will help to insist that strong safeguards for the privacy of the individual are implemented, especially in these times of increased alert over possible terrorist or criminal activity. If the systems which should help to protect us can be easily abused to supress our freedoms, then the terrorists will have won.

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Big Brother Watch - well connected with the mainstream media, this is a campaign blog by the TaxPayersAlliance, which thankfully does not seem to have spawned Yet Another Campaign Organisation as many Civil Liberties groups had feared.

Spy on Moseley - "Sparkbrook, Springfield, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. An MI5 Intelligence-gathering operation to spy on Muslim communities in Birmingham is taking liberties in every sense" - about 150 ANPR CCTV cameras funded by Home Office via the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) section of ACPO.

FitWatch blog - keeps an eye on the activities of some of the controversial Police Forward Intelligence Teams, who supposedly only target "known troublemakers" for photo and video surveillance, at otherwise legal, peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Other Links

Spam Huntress - The Norwegian Spam Huntress - Ann Elisabeth

Fuel Crisis Blog - Petrol over £1 per litre ! Protest !
Mayor of London Blog
London Olympics 2012 - NO !!!!

Cool Britannia


Free Gary McKinnon - UK citizen facing extradition to the USA for "hacking" over 90 US Military computer systems.

Parliament Protest - information and discussion on peaceful resistance to the arbitrary curtailment of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, in the excessive Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square in London.

Brian Burnell's British / US nuclear weapons history at

RIPA Consultations

RIPA Part III consultation blog - Government access to Encrypted Information and Encryption Keys.

RIPA Part I Chapter II consultation blog - Government access and disclosure of Communications Traffic Data

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For those of you who find it convenient, there is now a Twitter feed to alert you to new Spy Blog postings.

Please bear in mind the many recent, serious security vulnerabilities which have compromised the Twitter infrastructure and many user accounts, and Twitter's inevitable plans to make money out of you somehow, probably by selling your Communications Traffic Data to commercial and government interests.

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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

intelligence_gov_uk_150.gif - Cabinet Office hosted portal website to various UK Intelligence Agencies and UK Government intelligence committees and Commissioners etc.

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protestClimate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

Serious Organised Crime Agency - have cut themselves off from direct contact with the public and businesses - no phone - no email

Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

netcu_logo_150.gif National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit
National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit - keeps a watch on animal extremists, genetically modified crop protesters, peace protesters etc.
(some people think that the word salad of acronyms means that NETCU is a spoof website)

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme