NRC Next, 31 Oct 2011: 'They will soon see you everywhere'
“Just register and photograph everyone at the borders. In the Chamber, the majority is in favour of a camera system to fight crime and illegal migration. But the usefulness has not yet been proven. The military police are secretly working on a new camera system to monitor all motorists at the Dutch border. Useful? The usefulness has not been proven.
The government wants a camera network and database recording and photographing all cars by 1 January. Privacy advocates say it violates civil rights.
The borders in Europe disappeared? No way, from 1 January they will be back. Then the Netherlands will simply reintroduce border controls along its borders with Germany and Belgium. And unlike before the free movement of people in Europe, not a few, but all passing vehicles will then be checked.
Sounds unlikely? Yet it is true.
Does this mean endless traffic jams at the border again?
No, because the strict customs officer has been replaced by a sophisticated camera. If you drive a stolen car, or for any reason arouse the interest of computers of the Royal Military Police, you will still be pulled over a few kilometres after the border.
@migo-boras is the mysterious name of the camera network currently being set up along 15 border crossings. Combined with the rapidly growing number of cameras along Dutch highways, this means that you will soon be unable to drive here without being seen by the government's digital eye.
Apart from an eye, that government will soon have a memory. The House of Representatives is soon expected to approve a bill by Minister Opstelten (Security and Justice, VVD) to store the millions of photos for weeks.
As mysterious as the name @migo-boras is the attitude of the gendarmerie, which does not want to tell how the border control system works two months before the devices start flashing. And what is the purpose of @migo-boras? Who are being pulled over and why? What exactly happens to the photos? The earliest this will be revealed is the end of December. A week before the actual implementation.
Documents that surfaced by invoking the Open Government Act do offer information. For instance, about that mysterious name. @migo-boras stands for 'automatic mobile information driven action - better operational result and advanced security'. Those documents further reveal that @migo-boras will soon photograph not only the registration number, but also the side of vehicles.
Along more and more Dutch motorways, police are already flashing the registration numbers of all passing cars. Not to fine speeding drivers, but to catch crooks.
ANPR, or automatic number plate recognition, the technique is called. The number plates are compared with a list of suspects' vehicles in seconds. These could include people who have yet to pay a parking fine, or whose MOT has expired. If police are nearby, a 'hit' can cause the car to be pulled over a short time later.
The few foreign studies that do raise the question of whether ANPR reduces crime such as car theft show no effect. The UK and US studies show that ANPR is mainly picking more 'low-hanging fruit'. For example, the number of arrests for uninsured driving and outstanding fines has increased significantly. But the question is whether it makes society safer if the police put their energy and money into it. An ANPR camera costs between ten and twenty thousand euros.
There is no scientific research on the effect of storing the license plates to solve crimes with them. (...) The urge to install the ANPR cameras is so strong that Minister Opstelten did not want to wait for a study commissioned by his ministry on the efficient deployment of the cameras. The results will not be known for a month at the earliest, but Opstelten said earlier that the nationwide network is coming anyway.
The Council of Chiefs of Police believes the rapidly growing camera surveillance could even prevent crime. Like @migo-boras, ANPR cameras in the interior of the country would then use data mining to detect patterns in traffic. ''If, for example, you register that people are driving behind a cash-in-transit very often, you can intervene early. In the fight against cargo theft from trucks, you can pick out people who often stop at car parks at night," Bert Wijbenga, member of the council, told newspaper Trouw earlier.
Critics noted that you can thus end up as a suspect in a database if you happen to chase a cash-in-transit twice. Or if you frequently date strangers in car parks at night.
In Britain, meanwhile, the new government has announced stricter rules on the use of ANPR. Many Britons feel that government surveillance has gone too far, while a reduction in crime is failing to materialise.
The European Commission will seek further information from the Netherlands on the new border control system @migo-boras.
Brussels says there may be a violation of European Schengen rules on free movement of people. It says this is the case if the camera surveillance is the equivalent of old-fashioned border controls. "Concerns would arise with us if cameras were installed only along internal borders to permanently monitor border traffic, with hits directly resulting in checks on persons crossing the border," a spokesperson said in a written response. This seems a pretty apt description of how @migo-boras works.
According to Brussels, the Netherlands has stated that the cameras will be installed not only along the borders but also in the interior of the country. The Commission was not aware that the border control system @migo-boras and the ANPR cameras inside the country are two different systems, with the former specifically designed for border control.
The European Commission also assumed, on the basis of the Dutch information, that @migo-boras only responds to license plates, while photos are taken of the entire vehicle, often showing its occupants.
A report last year showed that the Amsterdam police are thinking of a central control room where all camera images from the city would come together. Not only those from the ring road, but also those from camera surveillance in the city centre. It is the desire of the Amsterdam police to equip these cameras with facial recognition software. This would allow a suspect to be tracked first on the ring road and then in the city centre from now on.
The Privacy First foundation has announced it will take the city of Amsterdam to court over the plans. "Every citizen becomes a potential suspect by this measure," chairman Bas Filippini told the website Nieuw Amsterdams Peil."
Source: NRC Next 31 October 2011, pp. 4-5.