Sleepy English town to be entirely surveilled in case criminals forget and drive through it on their way to crimes

Royston, a small market town of 15,000 people in Herts, England, is being completely encircled with license-plate cameras that will record the comings and goings of everyone who passes in or out of the town, and store them for up to five years. There's not really much crime in Royston. But the automatic number plate recognition manager for the region says that he will catch lots of criminals and terrorists because they might forget that this one town is totally surveilled and drive through it on their way to and from crimes and atrocities in other towns.
Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It is such an arbitrary and intrusive method. To do this in what is essentially a sleepy market town is ridiculous.

“Logging the movements of tens of thousands of innocent people living in the area is grossly disproportionate to the crime fighting abilities of the system and an abhorrent invasion of people’s privacy.”

Inspector Andy Piper, Hertfordshire Police’s ANPR manager, said: “On first sight, the ANPR coverage of such a low crime town as Royston may seem an unusual choice, but ANPR works both as a deterrent and a detection tool.

“When we look at the bigger picture in terms of Hertfordshire, as well as nationally, the position of the cameras makes a lot of sense strategically to target those criminals travelling into the county on the main roads in that area – not to mention counter-terrorism."

'Sleepy market town' surrounded by ring of car cameras (Thanks, Richard!)

(Image: These days there's no escaping from the #SS - even in our beauty spots :o( #anpr, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from zombie's photostream)


  1. Horrible idea. They should setup automated checkpoints at the borders of the town that have a simple control panel that reads: “Did you commit a crime? Yes or no.” Anyone answering “yes” would be pulled over and questioned and the same happens to anyone who answers “no” since criminals are liars.  Problem solved! The end!

    1. No, ‘automated checkpoints’ doesn’t mean that.

      Automated checkpoints are those places where your car is pulled over, and huge robots loom silently over you, and they have huge laser-gun hands. And they check you.

    2. A better idea? Just microchip the entire population, and install readers in various locations in any town or city in the country. You can track everyone that way.

      1. A better idea? Just microchip the entire population, and install readers
        in various locations in any town or city in the country. You can track
        everyone that way.

        Patience. The decade is young.

  2. Cut to Mr Kingston, who always came into town for a newspaper after committing his sunday afternoon murderings, going elsewhere. Way to destroy the local economy, guys.

  3. Total surveillance is like DRM: they burden everyone with it for the hope of catching the very few dishonest people and ultimately fail.

  4. And once again, I would argue that it is not surveillance (ultimately nothing more than gathering and logging of what is basically public information) that is the problem, but ‘unsurveilled’ surveillance. It is not information gathering that is bad in and of itself, but information asymmetry (the government knowing more about me than I know about it).

    As it stands, our strong cultural inclination towards privacy is a key factor contributing to our social hypocrisy – we most want privacy when we do not want to do as we say. For instance, if there were to be no way to hide any drug use (and, therefore, college kids would be as likely to go to jail for it, under current legislation, as inner city kids), the ‘War on Drugs’ would be quickly ended and drugs legalised.

    The only pertinent question would be “who watches the watchers?” The answer to that should be “everyone”. If the government (or anyone else) gathers, logs, or accesses any information about me, I want to be immediately aware of the full details of it. As such, while I agree that the situation described in the article is as senseless as it is unethical, we should be pushing for full transparency of surveillance, rather than for no surveillance.

  5. Pretty sure that this article will keep some criminals and terrorists in the loop and they’ll take a detour now, a big chunk of my family is from Royston, this is outrageously stupid.

  6. This isn’t about catching terrorists, this is about catching petty crimes (speeding, insurance lapses, etc).  These cameras are all over the UK, but the cameras on the highways and A roads are publicly posted (by law), and their locations are pinpointed by GPS nav units (portable units updated via Internet/USB) and can often be mitigated against… however the cameras in these small towns do not face the same disclosure regulations and can be hidden from the public.

    1. Pretty much yea. You’re not putting cameras up to catch Big Crime. You’re putting ’em up to fleece Joe Public out of speeding tickets, seatbelt violations, and the like….

      Is all about prfit and keeping the public afraid by throwing TERRORISTS out there every so often.

    2. This is exactly the issue. It has no real benefit. An actual Criminal could use a duplicate licence plate and circumvent the system. I for-see a future where each of us collects video at all times – to protect ourselves – against litigation etc.  And that in the event of a crime, people can voluntarily crowdsource their video. Who watches the watchers, we watch each other.

  7. This is actually about fining petty infractions of all sorts and collecting an additional “tax” from everyday folks by efficiently issuing summons most folks will not contest and just pay to get it over with.  20 pounds here, 40 pounds there and before you know it there is a new revenue stream.

    Seriously. This happens in the U.S. as well. Summons and tickets are serious revenue streams.

  8. The only explanation which makes sense is at

      1. I am getting the urge to get one of those label printers and add SCORPION STARE ENABLED to any camera I can find.

  9. Well you have to film foreigners and vagrants, they’re all evil f***s, especially the [SKIN_COLOR] ones.

  10. Dont worry everyone. It’s to fight terror. That means it’s ok. If you’re against this, you’re for terrorism, obviously. 

  11. It’s worth pointing out that pretty much all the petrol stations in the UK have had ANPR cameras for years.  If a vehicle is stolen, or has been used to steal fuel (people just fill up and then drive off without paying) then they are flagged, presumably because “interesting” number plates are in a database somewhere.

    The ANPR cameras that many cities have on major roads *do not* record every number plate they see – they only send an alert if they see a plate that’s in their database.  Thus, when my sister’s car was stolen, the police were only able to track it *after* it was reported, by putting it in the ANPR camera database.  By that time, it was parked up neatly with the doors locked and steering lock “club” fitted (the thieves had stolen the keys) where she found it a week later a mile from her house – but that’s another story…

    1. Depends on the system you’re using, then.  The ones I worked on didn’t (and indeed, under Scottish law it may be illegal to do so).

  12. Nick Hornby totally took the piss out of Royston in the novel “About a Boy”, portraying it as a desperately unexciting middle class commuter belt town. (This chapter is in the book but not the film. The chapter is set on the day of Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, the events in the chapter are heavily influenced by that event, and as the setting of the film was moved to a time contemporaneous with its release a few years later, it wouldn’t have made much sense if they had filmed it).

    A few years ago, when I was coming home to London from Cambridge and in no hurry, I stopped for a couple of hours in Royston out of curiousity, and concluded that Hornby had made a somewhat unfair unprovoked attack on the town. Perhaps, though, he was right.

  13. Gross invasion of privacy, of course.  Time to get out the shotguns, rocks, paint cans on sticks and other stuff to show Big Brother what’s up.

  14. Experts! I know you’re here.

    What would be the odds of successfully making a short-range EMP generator, sticking it in an old car, and driving a circle around, I don’t know, a sleepy English town?

    1. Would a handheld laser similarly affect the cameras, or rather…disable them?  I seem to remember seeing that lasers are Not Good for CCDs…

  15. Where do they get the money to do this stuff?  What a colossal, whopping amount of money it will cost to build and administer such a system.  Where the hell is it coming from?

    1. You don’t need to know where the money’s coming from. Just enjoy the warm glow of security, citizen.

  16. “The seven cameras in Royston, which has a population of 15,000, have been funded by the local council and business groups in the area.”  WHICH businesses, and HOW MUCH, and for HOW LONG

  17. I’m sorry, were you worried about the rights of citizens?  WELL then let me remind you: TERRORISTS!  Yeah, I thought so.  Go back into your hole, hippy!  The Communists are coming!  Oh wait sorry, Terrorists.  Wrong straw man!  My mistake.

  18. It’s being done in a posh suburb of San Francisco – Tiburon. There are are only two ways in and out and they’ve presumably installed cameras on either end. This is so they have instant criminal leads on any robberies. They’re not used for petty enforcement of paperwork violations – we’ve not given the cameras the ability to send tickets in the mail for expired registration.

    I say presumably because I’ve not heard any followup since the original proposal was publicized back in the summer of 2009.

  19. I think it’s a great technology, but the information that comes from it should be available to the entire public in real time. People with adequate resources can track you with or without it, so it’s a matter of empowering the rest of us.

    I don’t have a problem with the government tracking me, as long as I can track the government too.

  20. This is not about crime.  It’s about control.  It’s about the state (the police, the council, whatever) assuming that everyone is guilty until proven innocent, and wanting to control all those nasty guilty-of-something-probably proles.

    In a way, I agree with andrei_timoshenko, above.  I *do* think there is something wrong with it, but as technology advances, we may not have any choice.  But we need to think hard about what the rules and limits should be.  One of the ways this whole thing is out of kilter is that the state has all the cameras pointed at us, and we are increasingly getting into more and more trouble just for pointing cameras at each other, let alone the state.

    Let’s see all public cameras logged in a database and the feed / information that the cameras gather made publicly available.   That would still be intolerable, to my mind, but it stop the state behaving dishonestly with all this information. 

    Next, give the public the same right to use photography in a public place as the state has taken for itself…

  21. *pffft*  Sleepy little Royston-Vasey are just a bunch of wannabe followers – we’ve been doing that exact same thing in Tiburon, CA since 2009. See also: and and

    (Turns out, they’re *both* local towns, for local people.)

    1. And how has that worked out for Tiburon, CA?  Crime down?  Mission-creep abuse of power?  You could save us Brits two years of spray-paint and gaffer tape…

  22. After committing a crime I usually drive through Royston with stolen plates that the owner will not miss for a number of hours. Sometimes I just steal the whole car. Smile for the camera!

  23. they burden everyone with it for the hope of catching the very few

    I thought this was a country in dire economics straits, raising tuitions and taking dozens of other measures to prop up the economy … AND YET there always seems to be money for expensive cameras, installations, maintenance, and the technology and personnel to support them.

    What kind of leadership could be so afraid of its own people that it has to go to such lengths? Maybe it’s incompetence. Maybe it has gradually become so afraid of the connotations of words like ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy’ that it can’t sleep. Or, maybe, just maybe, it thought Orwell wrote it a cookbook.

  24. I am always surprised when real life begins to mimic so many of the dystopian science-fiction novels that I have read in the past and that is not a good thing.

  25. This is not about catching terrorists or even petty criminals, agreed…this is rather the hacker definition of “job security” — poor Inspector Piper needs something to do to justify the expense of his office.

  26. Fun thing to consider.  The number of traffic camera’s that were given a viking funeral (tyre + petrol + match) now means that every traffic camera installed now has at least one CCTV camera watching it in case someone decides they don’t like it…  unfortunate that in the UK high powered rifles are uncommon or someone with a scope, time, a bit of skill and a flagrant disregard for the law could have enormous fun.  I wonder if you could hack an air rifle to deliver enough force to punch through the ‘armour’ of a cameras metal shell or it’s plexiglass front…

    So when figures for the number of camera’s & camera poles are available always add +1 to them to count the newly installed CCTV system to keep those cameras safe.  I wouldn’t be surprised if in some places there was CCTV to watch the CCTV that’s watching the traffic cameras.

    I hate the phrase “police state” yet when talking about them monitoring the populace to this level it does seem to fit quite aptly.

  27. Welcome to Airstrip One, viewers from Oceania!  

    Once the surveillance theatre becomes established, remember that it will work both ways.  Videos of cops snarfing donuts on the tax-payers dime uploaded to the ‘nets, politicians words recorded for posterity, and their trials.  Maybe we should investigate the family connections of those who propose these systems and those who manufacture them.

    Who watches the Watchmen?  We do.  Otherwise no-one else will.

    1. It will happen once.  Then there will be ‘outages’ and the data will vanish in a puff of ‘whoops’.  After that it will become illegal to do so. 

      People have already tried to take cameras away from people quite inoccently snapping pictures.  And plod most certainly doesn’t like being filmed unless it’s for the next episode of: Action, Police, Brutality.

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