More Surveillance in the UK

This seems like a bad idea:

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the “routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

Once again, laws and technologies deployed against terrorism are used against much more mundane crimes.

Posted on January 26, 2010 at 7:16 AM77 Comments


Brett January 26, 2010 7:34 AM

Well, when you’ve already spent the money on infrastructure and have nothing to show the taxpayers, what do you expect they are going to do?

pugwash January 26, 2010 7:52 AM


fly-tippers – drive-by trash disposal perpetrators – they dispose of trash by dumping at the roadside, to avoid corporate disposal rates, sometimes not halting the vehicle as dtritus is ejected

Clive Robinson January 26, 2010 7:59 AM

@ Bruce,

I don’t think you quite get the UK…

I will explain the current encumberant government has stripped away as many legal rights as is possible from “persons both legal and natural”.

One thing they have done is introduce fines whereby if you pay now you pay (arround) 100GBP. If however you argue you have to pay at least double if “their ajudicators” find against you.

In recent court cases people have had their right to defend themselves stripped away by the use of the “Proceads of Crime Act” (POCA) where all their assets are frozen and they are given a tiny alowance to live on and they have to apply for legal aid.

Legal aid is now so much of a joke that the UK Gove is putting into place a “Dutch Auction” system whereby the lowest bidder gets to represent you irrespective of if they have the knowledge or ability to do so, and you as the defendant have no choice.

Worse they are trying to remove the right to defending yourself in court with the aid of one or more friends (thus preventing you getting around the “rights stripping” of POCA).

There is a case where a business man has been sent to jail after having his rights stripped under POCA even though there is compeling evidence that the self interested prosecution (they get a ~1/5th under POCA to pocket themselves) lied to the jury, and clear evidence that they lied to the judge. Further a firm of chartered accountants did the forensic accountancy on his books (that the prosecution had denied him access to untill just before the court case) and found that infact the Government owed his companies money not the other way arround.

Under UK law opinion submited by chartered accountants to a court has significant legal weight and must not be ignored by the judge it holds an equivalent position as an expert on extraterritorial judicial systems explaining to the judge how the law of another country is used.

Under POCA the police and the UK treasury all get a slice of the proceads.

Thus they find a high value target, cease all the information they can and start to look for ways to build a fictitious crime against them. To help in getting their way they prevent the person getting at the evidence to for a defence for themselves untill just a few scant days before the trial. Even though they have spent many many months building a case they will argue such things as “a competant barrister can work through the accounts with a calculator over night” and the judges just sit there and nod it through (don’t want to miss out on promotion or that knighthood or peerage by rocking the boat).

In the case of the man from Maidstone the judge having received compelling evidence he was innocent said he was still jailing the man prior to any future appeal apparently because this was the kindest thing to do to a man in his sixties who has now previous convictions or other stain on his charecter.

But hey this is “New Labour, New Britain” where justice is just an expensive inconveniance to extorting money to bribe voters…

Vintage1951 January 26, 2010 8:08 AM

In New Labour’s Britain, no opportunity is lost to monitor and control the population. Innocent until proven guilty? We’re all suspected criminals now.

cyberpunk January 26, 2010 8:16 AM

UAVs are winged vehicles which must move to stay airborne, the photo shows a tethered balloon which trails a wire that is a hazard to air navigation,
if either of these is directly overhead, the sightlines are good, except if you are in a building or under a tree, and provided that the weather is not messy.

as you get further from the thing, the sight angles are best in open fields,and very difficult among an area of four story buildings, or dense forest, but of course britain has those covered with the cctv. You only need eyes monitoring all of these, software to monitor these will chose things that will probably distract the capabilities while other things are happening. People under these systems will learn to act in certain ways when they feel that they are being watched, and they will learn the dead zones where this tech is not efficient.
thunderstorms/snowstorms will be come crime time.
Its all covered in cyberpunk fiction

shadowfirebird January 26, 2010 8:33 AM

Normally I’m right there with the rights-and-privacy people, but I don’t see this one.

Police already use helicopters; UAVs are, what, cheaper? Now, when they use those tiny little MAVs that are still bleeding edge for US troops, maybe it’s a story.

Or, what am I not getting here?

Dave January 26, 2010 8:36 AM

See the recent article in Economist describing how we have all become wimps. It compares our reaction to the tiniest incident now, with what was a relative lack of response in the ’80s to several far more serious hijackings and bombings. I don’t think obsessive news media coverage is the cause, it’s just another effect.

There’s also a lot to say about how many terrorist attacks were perpetrated by homegrown plotters -the OK Federal building, anthrax attacks, the ‘Unibomber”‘, on and on. Meanwhile, someone visiting from Lebanon is treated like Lucifer come to destroy.

There’s something much bigger going on here and I have read countless opinions about it, but there’s more to it. It seems more like, there is some kind of pandemic of fear overtaking us, I mean in general, a broad sweeping terror in so many people and they are trying to put a face to it. It’s manifested in the economy and in the mad rush to purchase firearms, and in not letting your kids out to play.

I now know that the crippling phobia that characterized Howard Hughes in the later years of his life, was not an irrational fear of germs as everyone says. The germs represented, in his mind, the unseen enemy. That’s also why he bugged the crap out of everyone and maintained a cloak of secrecy that was so good the CIA actually approached him for help. The germs represented the faceless enemy.

So, what is it that we’re REALLY afraid of? A recent conversation with some relatives struck me, when a cousin said “Oh…we’re afraid because, you know, no one knows what’s going to happen.” I thought, since when did anyone know what was going to happen next? What is driving this fear of impending doom?

Vintage1951 January 26, 2010 8:46 AM

Dave, how many of the attacks you list would have been mitigated by deploying this sort of surveillance against the general population? The South Coast Partnership was originally intended to improve the ability to patrol UK coastal waters (hence the UKBA membership of the consortium). This is yet another example of justifying technology in terms of a serious threat and then extending its use in a disproportionate response to trivial misdemeanours.

kangaroo January 26, 2010 8:48 AM

“What is driving this fear of impending doom?”

Maybe your cousin meant “We don’t understand what’s going to happen next?” Remember, most people don’t understand how TV works, what genetic engineering is, or what a “climate model” is.

On the other hand, you dismiss the engineering of the sense of crisis too simply. There may be an underlying sense of DOOM that is used by media systems — but that doesn’t mean that there don’t exist sophisticated folks trying to use DOOM as a tool of control.

rich January 26, 2010 9:11 AM

Don’t forget the Brits have had sixty years of institutionalized socialism, and before that hundreds of years of forelock-tugging servility.. if you speak to them, you find that a majority seems to be in favor of things like this, speed cameras, pervasive surveilliance, and so on. Or maybe it’s because they feel powerless to effect change, with the two (identical) party system they have there, and it’s easier to just pretend to go along with it.

norepeat January 26, 2010 9:19 AM

This has been in the offing for a while, coupled with the introduction of RFID chips in ID cards (already compulsory for certain types of immigrant). I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the potential for mass surveillance when people have to carry RFID identifiers and the government has scanners that can read the data at a distance.

Clive Robinson January 26, 2010 9:28 AM

Did anybody spot this little delight,

“The CAA is currently reluctant to license UAVs in normal airspace because of the risk of collisions with other aircraft, but adequate “sense and avoid” systems for drones are only a few years away.”

I can see hours of endless fun with a suitably equipted model plane acting as a sheepdog to the UAV playing flossy the mindless ewe…

I’m not sure if the Gardian has got it wrong or the assistant cheif constable of kent is telling porky pies but,

“Concerned about the slow pace of progress of licensing issues, Kent police’s assistant chief constable, Allyn Thomas, wrote to the CAA last March arguing that military drones would be useful “in the policing of major events, whether they be protests or the ­Olympics”. He said interest in their use in the UK had “developed after the terrorist attack in Mumbai”.

Stressing that he was not seeking to interfere with the regulatory process, Thomas pointed out that there was “rather more urgency in the work since Mumbai and we have a clear deadline of the 2012 Olympics”.”

You notice he tells the CAA that interest had “developed AFTER the terrorist attack in Mumbai” but in another direct quote he says “rather more urgency in the work SINCE Mumbai” he can’t have it both ways it is either since or after, and I know for a fact it’s well befor Mumbai.

Oh and Kents ACC also throws in a reverse “for the children” with a comment directed well and truly towards New Labour Politicians with “we have a clear deadline of the 2012 Olympics” (subtext we don’t want another 7/7).

Oh and it’s not as though they have not tried another political purse string jerker with,

“Previously, Kent police has said the drone scheme was intended for use over the English Channel to monitor shipping and detect immigrants crossing from France.”

Yeh right just how are the cameras going to see down to the locked decks of cross channel ferries where illegal immigrants regularly bribe a fery employee to let them in so they can hide on lorries with security seals they can bypass with a very sharp knife and a spot of super glue (which is one major way in for them).

As the Gaurdian points out with,

“There is potential for these [maritime] uses to be projected as a ‘good news’ story to the public rather than more ‘big brother’,” a minute from the one of the earliest meetings, in July 2007, states.

In other words senior Kent Police have a “hard on for the technology” and are going to try every stroke to get their hands on such “pant wetting” technology. Even to the point they are talking about “cost offsetting” with other GA’s and “comercial” organisations with,

“At one strategy meeting it was proposed the aircraft could undertake commercial work during spare time to offset some of the running costs.”

Just how much money does the Kent ACC thinks can be made with “Kent Yokel Speeds 10” videos?

And from a blimp those cameras are going to have to have very very expensive image stabalisers and very very high quality optics to make broadcast quality video.

Big eye optics brings me nicely around to,

“BAE drones are programmed to take off and land on their own, stay airborne for up to 15 hours and reach heights of 20,000ft, making them invisible from the ground.”

Do me a favour “invisible to whom” a one eyed Welsh pit pony. We are talking about a 70ft blimp with navigation lights and radar reflectors.

The human eye has a resloving power of about 1 in 2000 so 20000/2000 = 100 and the blimp is nearly that long so it may well be visable with a cheap pair of binos with x8 magnification and 50mm object lenses. The old “Ok Chaps fly at the Hun out of the sun” does not cut it these days for other simply solvable reasons.

One of which is it is also going to be dead easy to spot with a low cost 3cm (10GHz/X-band) marine radar which you can buy second hand for next to nothing. The modification to the antenna to do this is not exactly difficult…

Better still how about using the reflections of airport radar such as at Lydd using a (possibly) passive receiver and a little software…

The device is also going to be “EM Hot” and thus have it’s own little EM radiator to get data back to the ground. And if you have a ten second think about,

“The surveillance data is fed back to control rooms via monitoring equipment such as high-definition cameras, radar devices and infrared sensors.”

You will realise that every single one of those “Big eye” EM sensors will have “rabbit eye” problems.

A suitable telescope and IR or other laser would have it’s position dead on even if it is 20,000ft up.

All that said, the chances are they would muck up various other parts of the design to make it “easy to use” or “reduce initial cost” or “reduce maintanence cost” or “Easy use” for on the ground or in the air forces just as we have seen problems from military UAV’s.

So my guess is apart from the ACPO “hard on” “braging rights” (yup Chief Police officers are most definatly men with very expensive toys if their past track record is anything to go by) these blimps will do general sweeps for this up and comming new local land tax whereby you pay a lot extra council tax if you have a patio etc etc etc. And if you don’t declare it a 20,000GBP fine. Which is probably what the Kent ACC means by,

“there will be “large capital costs” involved in buying the drones, but argue this will be shared by various government agencies.”

Hey ho and proof it’s a boondongle,

“They also say unmanned aircraft are no more intrusive than CCTV cameras and far cheaper to run than helicopters.”

So are Kent senior officers realy saying after spending millions on their previous toy CCTV it is an inefective waste of money…

Oh and,

“Partnership officials have said the UAVs could raise revenue from private companies.”

Yup sounds like raising money through fines to me.

But who am I but one of tbe poor people who will be mugged to pay for it.

John January 26, 2010 10:24 AM

I suspect this is an old story revived for reasons of the newspaper. Watch for a story related to this or the predictable comments posted in reaction to this story.

BF Skinner January 26, 2010 10:36 AM

@EdT. “order their Predators…”
In Texas? With of course.

@Dave “since when did anyone know what was going to happen next?”

There are a group(s) who frame their fear in terms of demonic influence and satanic control. More modern types fear the New world order in Davros, Bilderberg, the Tri-Lat’s, Boheminan Grove, and the always trustworthy JBC.
They likely ebb and grow during times of social change.

We’ve had the end of the century jointly with Y2k, then a series of attacks that were much larger in scope (apparently) than the Oklahoma City bombing (although the OK City University bombing got almost NO national media attention.

We’ve got new communication channels where people can mouth off to the world at large rather than just their John Birch Society Meeting (who are jointly sponsoring CPAC this year.)

But some people are changing some of their minds. Little Green Footballs got into a major flame war in the far right when the blogger said that terrorism while not gone as a threat has been reduced in scope and he began to talk on other things that his linkers hated.

It could be the pace and direction of change has people generally worried.
And then you get demagouges making a buck off the fear.

I wonder if we get the same kind of sectarian killing here in the US that Nigeria just went through this week would Beck, Limbaugh or Ailes feel at all responsible for whipping up hysteria?

DanT January 26, 2010 10:58 AM

What about the cost of these UAVs?

I saw on the Danger Room blog that crashes causing over $1M damage account for (very conservatively) $140 per hour of UAV flight beyond the normal cost of operator, fuel, maintenance, etc. Admitedly, that is in a war zone, but the majority of those crashes are due to landings in bad weather. They do have rain in Kent.

It might just be cheaper to hire local pilots to buzz the crowds trailing a banner with a police logo. That is not a joke, obvious police presence tends to discourage illegal activity.

Samsam January 26, 2010 11:15 AM

At 20,000, lots of clouds can form below the blimp. At this height, it’s a fair-weather tool.

At 20,000 ft, a 16 ft blimp (size is a wild guess on my part) will appear to have a length 1/10 of the moon’s diameter. A video camera on a scanning mount and some software should be able to locate the blimps without too much trouble.

Does anyone know the effect of a 0.5Watt laser on camera sensors? I recall one of the Apollo missions burned up a camera by pointing at the Sun.

Not advocating mayhem, just pointing out the system seems awfully fragile in the face of common technology.

AlanS January 26, 2010 11:39 AM

“…hundreds of years of forelock-tugging servility…”

Well, I haven’t lived in the UK for a while but this must be a new thing. What I remember were poll-tax riots, violent CND demos, inner-city riots, football riots, not to mention all the stuff the Provos and UVF got up to. And the British history I read was full of revolts, beheadings, national covenants, etc. And, err, isn’t a third party the largest political party in Scotland at the moment and isn’t it threatening an independence referendum this year? I find it hard to believe that the spirit of the Big Yin doesn’t continue to live at least north of the border and I know what he’d have to say on the matter unmanned spy drones and state surveillance.

jgreco January 26, 2010 11:48 AM


You seem to have some sort of general dislike of UAVs in general that I can’t quite disern the details of. I’m fairly certain that unarmed surveillance drones don’t mark the beginning of a robot apocalypse in anything but sci-fi though…

My main concern with this is that the authorities don’t seem to see anything wrong with using military grade surveillance gear to spy on civilians. Chances are, the drones are far cheaper and more effective than other alternatives, but I feel that should never even get a chance to factor into the equation.

I understand that technology developed my militaries is used every day by people like us, or by police, and I generally don’t have an issue with it. Things like this strike me as something akin to the police replacing their SUVs with surplus humvees because they could take more abuse or were better armored. Technology that is acceptable to use in a warzone is not necessarily acceptable to use on the general public. In addition to providing more effective surveillance (we can probably argue for hours on whether we actually want that), using military developed drones on the public signifies a rather ominous change in the governments attitude towards control and power.

Pieter January 26, 2010 12:09 PM

@ Clive Robinson January 26, 2010 9:28 AM and Samsam at January 26, 2010 11:15 AM
The ‘solution’ will be easy:
Having technology that can detect (Or disrupt) the UAV will be declared illegal.

BTW, a multi-kW pulsed laser will be much more effective against the camera and prevents an ‘auto-iris’ fix }:-)

MoJo January 26, 2010 12:42 PM

I seem to remember reading that the drones used by the US army don’t encrypt the video link. In other words, anyone can tune in.

This will be brilliant for monitoring police at protests and for spying on celebrities. You could even organise a protest near the house of someone you want to spy on just to get the drone there. Most people think their walled garden or rooftop is a private place but not any more.

The only way I can see of ever stopping this kind of thing is for it to be abused, and the victim to be a high ranking politician. My local MP (Sarah McArthy Fry) has already been involved in one high tech scam – some Nigerians hacked her PC and sent emails to all her friends while she was on holiday, claiming to be from her and asking for emergency money transfers to help her get home.

Once a few cabinet ministers have their biometric data stolen and are then unable to use ID cards because they can’t revoke their fingerprints, or once someone opens bank accounts in their name or accesses child porn with their credit card we may finally see some proper checks and limits put in place.

Actually Jeremy Clarkson, a well known celebrity here, once challenged people to steal his identity based on just his name, vague address and IIRC National Insurance number. A few days later £500 was transferred from his account to a charity. Politicians should be an even easier target.

mcb January 26, 2010 12:53 PM

Were it my tax pounds at work I’d say these “eye in sky” robots lack sufficient granularity. How about requiring all UK cellphones – and their GPS and cameras – be switched “On” all the time? That way the nanny state could listen, track, and watch everything that’s happening, then scold its noncompliant subjects in real time…

Moderator January 26, 2010 1:14 PM

Op, I knew those floods of free-associative gibberish looked familiar. You were here back in 2008, wasting everyone’s time in exactly the same way. I’ve removed all 23 of your comments from today and yesterday. Don’t bother coming back again.

EH January 26, 2010 2:28 PM

It’s just routine monitoring. Nothing anybody isn’t already used to.

Talk about using the slippery slope argument positively.

UK resident January 26, 2010 2:49 PM

This is the typical New Labour attitude to the law, as typified by Jack Straw’s outlook :-

‘He said Mr Straw also told him at their meeting that he had “often been advised things were unlawful and gone ahead anyway and won in the courts” when he was home secretary.’

Other examples include the advice to the police to carry on using random stop and search despite the recent ruling in the European Court of Human Rights that it is illegal, and their use to hassle photographers

Lourens January 26, 2010 3:21 PM

@Dave at January 26, 2010 8:36 AM

I agree. My current best guess is demographics. At least here in The Netherlands the population age distribution is rapidly shifting upwards. Better medical care keeps people alive longer, and more wealth results in less children.

Older people are generally more scared than younger ones, and the same technological revolution that is increasing our life spans is rapidly changing the world around us, leading to alienation and more fear. Sure, not by far in all of them, but in a larger proportion.

And so, these older generations call for more security, for someone to take care of them (and it isn’t their children, who are too busy working so that society can afford their parent’s pensions) and make the confusion and fear go away, and our elected representatives, who aren’t getting any younger themselves, are only too happy to oblige.

billswift January 26, 2010 3:26 PM

The problem that commenters seem to have missed is that because these things are</> cheaper than helicopters or planes there will be more use made of them; making tools for surveillance (aka spying) cheaper with no other change (for example, extending the legal restrictions on wiretapping and bugging to all automated surveillance) will result in more surveillance.

Matt from CT January 26, 2010 3:57 PM

Billswift just beat me to it.

Normally I’m right there with the
rights-and-privacy people, but I don’t
see this one.

Police already use helicopters; UAVs
are, what, cheaper?

I’ve actually thought for a while this is where we’re headed with police helicopters.

Take my state (Connecticut). Rather then have a single State Police helicopter that covers 5,000 square miles, except when it’s out for maintenance, or gone for three months for overhaul like it was in ’09, when the weather is cooperative we could have four UAVs airborne. Three of them on “auto-pilot” and one under active control. If an incident occurs that needs aerial surveillance, the pilot sitting at HQ could put the current drone on auto-pilot and switch the closest eye in the sky.

Taken one step further, there is no reason several states in New England couldn’t pool their resources to run one flight control center.

There are legitimately, very justifiable needs for aerial surveillance. It’s far safer, for instance, then a high speed pursuit.

In my state if a car has been in an car accident and no victim or witnesses are on the scene then it needs to be cleared by police dog (best), helicopter w/thermal imaging (good), or the FD w/ handheld thermal imager (ok).

I think we can make a reasonable compromise —

UAVs are acceptable. Having UAVs on station “standing by” is fine.


1) UAVs not under human control should not be recording or transmitting data.

2) There should be no recording of video except when a human is operating it for a specific mission (search, pursuit, etc).

3) There should be no automatic processing of the video signals

It’s a good tool, but we should not have our privacy degraded simply by Moore’s Law making law enforcement cheaper.

Puzzled January 26, 2010 4:05 PM

@Clive Robinson:
“Thus they find a high value target, cease all the information they can”

Would you please preview your messages before posting? You obviously despise such things as correct spelling and grammar, but sometimes your posts just descend into incomprehensibility. I have no idea what the above extract is supposed to mean.

Roger Morgan January 26, 2010 4:14 PM

Unmanned surveillance drones might be the only cost-effective way to catch agricultural thieves and fly-tippers. And catching criminals is the only effective way to reduce crime. So I’m in favour of these uses. Depending on exactly what is meant by “antisocial” motorists I might be in favour of going after them, too.

But I stop supporting this when it refers to “protesters”. In a free society, the right to protest should be taken for granted. It is especially indispensable in a country with a two-party political system where the two parties have identical policies on the most important issues, as in Britain.

Clive Robinson January 26, 2010 5:21 PM

@ Puzzled et al,

“Thus they find a high value target, cease all the information they can”

It should be seize (grab) not cease.

Sorry just a little more in pain and consiquently without much rest the past couple of days.

db Cooper January 26, 2010 5:37 PM

@ Puzzled:

When a message has the quality (and quantity) of wisdom provided by Clive, spelling and grammar can be overlooked.

  • this posting certified spell/gramar checked by Google.

Roxanne January 26, 2010 6:17 PM

Back in 2000, I made jokes about how the Bush Administration was using Orwell’s “1984” as a How-to Manual rather than as a warning. It looks like Britain is on the same track. How long will it be before you can’t turn off the camera on your laptop, and your phone is always listening?

Matt from CT January 26, 2010 6:30 PM

And catching criminals is the only
effective way to reduce crime.


It is one part of an effective strategy.

Social pressure is a highly effective tool in changing behavior, including crime.

Environmental controls — literally the broken windows part of broken windows strategy — help a lot to. If you leave garbage dumped along a road, it encourages others to also do it. If you remove it promptly, it doesn’t encourage others.

Saying it’s the only effective control is as simplistic as those who say it’s just poverty that causes inner city crime.

PackagedBlue January 26, 2010 6:37 PM

So what happens if a UAV goes haywire and crashes into a plane or building, then who pays?

What happens if some nutcases put ballons up with a wirenet, and the UAV goes crazy, and damages happen?

Wouldn’t some of the above be good to consider before they happen? These days, you never know with insurance companies, should there be additional coverage?

Matt from CT January 26, 2010 6:42 PM

Expanding my thoughts from above, at what point does enforcement get so abstract from the social element that it encourages more disobedience of authority?

I postulate that a cop on the beat who interacts with someone is a far stronger deterrent of crime then an anonymous CCTV camera.

The Kansas City experiment comes to mind which showed that police motorized patrols didn’t impact crime rates — I’d argue a cop in an air conditioned cruiser isn’t much different from a camera.

My own experience years ago in uniformed security in state parks was that walking around and saying hello and being able to articulate a clear reason for asking for compliance with the rules was far more effective then the folks who drove around with a badge on the chest and chip on the shoulder.

By articulating a reason an example is this: I didn’t care how loud someone played their radio, provided I couldn’t hear it from where another group was picnicking or camping. If I could, then I’d explain why I was asking for the radio to be turned down. Often simply turning the way the radio pointed, or rolling up the windows on one side of the car, allowed the volume to stay the same but no longer intrude on other user’s space.

People told simply to turn it down because it was the rule often would be repeat offenders later on since they perceived it as arbitrary power yielding by the officers.

Being a friendly face asking for a reasonable favor was far more productive then simple intimidation.

Matt from CT January 26, 2010 6:44 PM

So what happens if a UAV goes haywire
and crashes into a plane or building,
then who pays?

The same folks who pay when an officer loses control of a cruiser and causes an accident.

Bruce Clement January 26, 2010 10:05 PM

@Chris Waigl “Uh, protesting is legal.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 1: “This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp.”

Clive Robinson January 27, 2010 3:53 AM

@ Matt from CT,

“Saying it’s the only effective control is as simplistic as those who say it’s just poverty that causes inner city crime.”

The short reply is “Money is the root of all evil” (or should it be “route” hmm on for the philosphy group me thinks 😉

Howevere it is true that spending in the right places and the right ways will save large amounts later on in life.

For instance a lack of spending on the right teachers in some areas is known to have a detrimental effect on civil order later in the pupils lives (ie they need strong male role models in the class not just on the sports field or perceived to be on the street corners).

Lack of oportunity for people to lift themselves out of poverty is almost a guarenty that some will take the crime road (but not most).

As has been noted on previous blogs the US population is now around 310million twice what it was 50 years ago, and street and other crime has gone up some 10 or more times (the average across all crime appears to be just under 7 times and the Politicos normalise this against population to give 3 times or worse against $/average income such is playing with stats).

The bulk of the crime is low dollar and against others in a poor community. And that used to be fine with most politicos as it does not effect their voters. However with the cost of transportation droping in real terms in the 80’s street crime developed legs and did start to effect their voters.

You only have to look at the comercialisation of US jails to see how the oportunity for “pork” etc to see why some don’t want crime solved by simple things such as keeping the place tidy, improving sporting and academic oportunities and encoraging local businesses run by local people.

I cannot remember who it was who likened going into certain places in the US like time traveling back to the lawlessness of a century before.

But I’m sure some will nod in the direction to the notion that whatever the many causes of crime maybe the fear of living in a lawlessness and opportunity less area akin to one hundred years in the past does make people live in fear which parallises them, the stress causes health problems and untimley death, and lack of education and oportunity keeps them dirt poor and thus suitable prey for others be they criminal, aspiring politicians or big business running profitable farm sized prisons.

By the way I’m not saying this is just a US problem (it most definatly is not) it’s just that the US has all the ellements working together at the moment to make it as bad as it is (the UK for instance is only just starting in on “big business” private prisons and it’s a real disaster).

Sadly sometimes it is also compasionate law to protect those from other countries who have suffered unimaginable deprivation. Others learn that such systems behind these laws work on “points make prizes” and thus know how to work the system to their advantage and take scarce resources away from those for whom it was intended.

The problem is well “complex” but money is very intimate with the process, and with poverty and the issues are so conflated it is difficult to say what is any one path that will produce best value for the dollar. The one thing I do know is that with a scarce resource being fair to every one is not going to work and acknowledging that might just be the first step along the road.

GregW January 27, 2010 5:19 AM

They’re “planning to use unmanned spy drones for the ‘routine’ monitoring of protesters”???

The mind boggles. Just how stupid and taxpayer-dollar-wasteful can our guardians be?

To all “subversive protestors” out there exercising our lawful, democratic, civil and human rights, I suggest the plan be for everyone to bring an umbrella.

Coming up next: the ban on misuse of umbrellas during sunny periods prompts protestors to switch to wide-brimmed hats.

GregW January 27, 2010 5:45 AM

@billswift: it’s not just the fact that it’s cheaper points to even greater surveillance, look at their goals: monitoring “antisocial motorists”, “agricultural thieves” and “fly tippers”?

Can’t we pay an extra beat cop to work for 10 years for the price of a million-dollar UAV, and that doesn’t even include the fuel budget (or the fact we’re paying for that cop anyway, to remotely fly the UAV)?

BF Skinner January 27, 2010 6:23 AM

@GregW ” bring an umbrella”

Love it. On to each umbrella paint a letter or random words. As the crowds move around each other differnent combinations will look like ciphertext or plaintext. It will be read by the UAV. The UAVs masters will imput the letters into their mainframes in Salt Lake City and puzzle over the breaks “pale guitars own hunters ask overdoses burried issues”

Very beat, very Bill Lee.

Clive Robinson January 27, 2010 6:51 AM

@ Roxanne,

“Back in 2000, I made jokes about how the Bush Administration was using Orwell’s “1984” as a How-to Manual rather than as a warning.”

I still think the best one was from a young lady in her early tweenties at a “stop the war” march. She had a quite large banner with the words,

“The only bush I trust is my own”

painted on it. She was receiving attention from a couple of young male PC’s but for some reason they appeared to be giving not taking details 😉

BF Skinner January 27, 2010 7:19 AM

@Chris Waigl “protesting is legal”

Someone said “On the internet The First Ammendment is a local ordinance.”

yoyo January 27, 2010 10:11 AM

About clive robinson,
he’s the best commentator on this blog and very knowlegable.
His spelling was excellent until he got one of those tiny phone devices and stopped using a fullsize keyboard,
he will occasionally use rhyming slang such as pork pie for prevarication.
His posts are always worth the time but if you have a problem with the grammer you can skip them and move to a less informed commentator.

uk visa January 27, 2010 12:30 PM

@ Clive
Sadly, you’ve got it nailed.
Re. the drones… I wouldn’t be surprised if the drones idea dies a death from negative publicity.
However, I suspect it’s a clever move by the government (would that they had more of them) – they release the drones news just as they decide to put average speed cameras on all the motorways.
The press and many people react to the (dummy) drones so they get an easier passage on the speed cameras.
Which, incidentally, provide a great deal of revenue (albeit parasitic) to our beloved government.

W is for Winston January 27, 2010 5:24 PM

Back in 2000, I made jokes about how the Bush Administration
was using Orwell’s “1984” as a How-to Manual rather than as a warning.

There was no Bush administration in 2000. Bill Clinton was president from 1993 – 2001.

Or has history been re-written once again?

Stephanie January 27, 2010 7:50 PM

Thanks Bruce, can you do a piece about domestic surveillance in the US again? Its still going on…

Frankly, I’d prefer a blimp to warrantless surveillance and federal contractors on keystone cop stalker style observations anyday. So anyone know which countries are left that aren’t monitoring people? Ireland? Are they taking Patriot Act Refugees?

jgreco January 27, 2010 8:58 PM


Thing is, they are not going to be using UAVs instead of other surveillance methods. They are going to be using UAVs in addition to other surveillance methods.

Governments are like small children in many ways but this isn’t one of them. They don’t forget about their old toys when they get shiny new ones.

Andy January 27, 2010 11:54 PM

Surely this is a good thing, particularly if the police can sell the rights to the footage to Sky TV. We all get a new cop show “Cop Bot Patrol” and they get an income stream.

Andy January 28, 2010 12:03 AM

“Does anyone know the effect of a 0.5 Watt laser on camera sensors?”

Posted by: Samsam at January 26, 2010 11:15 AM

There is a law being discussed to make pointing lasers at aircraft illegal, I don’t know if it would cover these drones though.

jacob January 28, 2010 10:50 AM

Clive, you as usual are right on as far as the cameras misdirection. Look at the drone idea, let’s put more cameras in.
I have advocated for years, let’s starve the basturds. (sp intentionally) Some cities have removed cameras because revenue could not pay for the contracts. the companies putting in red light cameras receive part of the revenue for tickets they generate. Many have been caught shortening yellow lights, moving detectors back from corner, etc.

Again, drive slow avoid the ticket. The People have the ability to change things if we work together. As you know I throughly enjoy mocking the nonsense that politicians try foisting on us. Proper protests, mocking the nonsense, and confrontation (peaceful) can change alot.

Still waiting to mock the scanners. Maybe a moaning ringtone as they do the patdown.

Rob January 28, 2010 10:56 AM

Expect more of this nonsense. There are many anti-freedom measures being implemented by ‘the authorities’, of which a notable one is clamping down on the general public taking photos. I believe that it is driven by anxiety over policing the olympics. Perhaps with reason: London 2012 must be considered a high-risk terrorist target. Two worries though: how much of the legislation and policing practice will be rolled back after 2012, and how much will there be ‘mission creep’ in the way they are used, before, during and after 2012? Some questions just don’t need answers do they?

Clive Robinson January 28, 2010 12:05 PM

@ jacob,

“The People have the ability to change things if we work together.”

I have been told that the Denver Boot (wheel clamp) was a compleate failure in France due to the “French Temprement”.

I mistakenly belived it was the usual baracding and burning that French Fishermen etc are reputed to do.

However one Jerrmy Clarkson of the BBC’s Top Gear program gives a different story.

Apparently the “French Temprement” was as expected one of outrage, however no burning no baracading. Apparently the law had a clause about release times after notification or some such. The French simply went out and bought tubes of super glue…

Yup the wiely Frenchman on seeing a wheel clamp would whip out his little tube of supper glue and squirt it up the key way of the lock or down the sides of the lock protection gaurd.

Apparently they cocidered they where doing a civic service as the motorist who had been clamped was not liable to the fine if the clamp was not removed.

Apparently some of the clampers tried to argue it was the motorist commiting criminal damage and thus should still pay the fine this brought out people with their glue tubes even more some would stand there and wave them at the clampers in their vans.

The boot as it where moved to the other foot and the wheel clamping diapeared almost over night.

I suspect in Britain the police would make carrying a tube of glue grounds for charging with “going equiped to commit a crime” one of those realy nasty bits of legislation.

However most police men have not actually studied the law properly which makes their life somewhat difficult when a “custody officer” gets told the bad news 😉

With regards,

“As you know I throughly enjoy mocking the nonsense that politicians try foisting on us.”

I’m thinking we need a reserection of the Arlo Gutthrie (son of Woody) approach as outlined in “Alice’s Resteraunt” (song and film)…

However if you do get stopped and searched mention Cptn Underpants and say something about not getting the “Personal Service” etc. If you do it right there is little or nothing they can do. Although in the UK you have to be carefull in Deptford SE London they will try provoking you, threatening you and then just beat you up before searching you and claim you “where resisting” or some such in the local press even though a couple of hundred witnesses say otherwise (eight coppers holding someone on the ground whilst another one kicks the suspect repeatedly).

I have the advantage of having been shown (when wearing the green) how to search people who have the habit of putting scalpel blades and small fish hooks in their collars and cuffs to catch the incautious searcher.

Having recently seen three cops shaking down a driver in Deptford (just a few yards from a rather nice old world butchers I very occasionaly go to,) I can say they are not sufficiently cautious…

jacob January 28, 2010 9:32 PM

First of all the scapel blades, etc. is way over the top.

The superglue is a perfect example.

I would personally try for embarassment and laughter. Maybe record a 4 yr old saying “they’re touching me in a bad place” 🙂 I would carry a case with scrapbooking materials. Go ahead get upset about the superglue, try me. I’ll take that to court with a smile on my face. I’m retired I’ll pack a lunch and play chess. Its my contribution to the younger generation.

I once was pulled over for speeding. 5mph over the speed limit. Obviously he was looking for something else. I said show me the cert and the readout. I was polite and pleasant. I was even joking with the officer. I told him please give me that ticket, I’ll frame it. He laughed and sent me on my way.

You won’t let me take a picture, let’s try a drawing. You could actually case a place better with drawn plans anyway. Call and ask why the web site tracking stimulus spending is inaccurate. Post on blogs jokes, pointing out the absurdities.

In the U.K the point might be why is the “HOA” or others spying on people taking out the trash? I would be willing to bet that those drones will be used to survey properties for additions or capital improvements so they can blackmail the owners for more tax money.

You copywrite a shopping centre. Get 500 photographers there at once. (That actually happened) Police don’t like people recording them. Record and upload to web.

Show them misbehaving. Show them doing good. I seem to remember you are in the UK. I would love to see people doing something about all those cameras. People should be able to travel freely without the government tracking every movement. I have heard of people using Thermite. I certainly think that is over the top. What could be done to lower their return on investment and make it cost them money? At that point the cameras would come down and they could put them in convenience stores where it might actually help. Maybe everybody drive 5mph under the speed limit for a year. Put signs up telling drivers if the don’t like the cameras, do the following.

I believe in peaceful protests. The reason I believe that civil rights happened here in the 60s was the videos showing protestors being beaten, water hoses, and dogs. That made people say enough and even turned the stomachs of the politicians!!

As usual you are a great poster, may you continue for decades to come.

Clive Robinson January 29, 2010 2:18 AM

@ jacob,

“First of all the scapel blades, etc. is way over the top.”

Yes it is, but that is what happened in N.I. During the 1980’s along with gun running by small children and under babies in prams etc.

It is a lesson that is a memory for some a warning for the generation that followed them and apparently a myth for the generation after…

And sadly there are parts of NI where black headwear and the carrying of M16’s etc has started again with illegal punishmets. Where 16year olds hate again just because some of their community elders talk in terms of glory of writing wrongs that never where in the way they tell it.

And that is the real issue peoples perception of the past. That only a “glorification” or “vilification” appears to last in what is effectivly a tribal memory.

I read books of events I was activly involved in and how “scholers” now report it and it is just plain wrong. They conflate two or more events and when you actually tell them that what they have put in their book they basicaly say they have thoroughly researched and I’m wrong…

And when you say which court records did you look at you see in their eyes they relied not on the recorded events of the time but the work of a succession of others all twisting with their own “glorifiction” or “vilification” perspectives.

Thus the real lessons from history that are of so much use become enshrouded in academic misma in just a generation or two…

And thus the weel goes around 8(

neill January 29, 2010 8:44 AM

the song ” … what goes up must come down …” comes to my mind

anything flying can/must come back to the ground eventually

lets see how the public reacts if the first drones malfunction and injure innocent bystanders …

MikeA January 29, 2010 1:02 PM


— You won’t let me take a picture, let’s try a drawing. You could actually case a place better with drawn plans anyway. —

I guess that’s why my daughter was stopped from sketching a building (museum or some such, exterior view only, from across the street) in Washington D.C., while there on a field trip for an architecture class.

Previous administration, but not much seems to have changed.

Peter A. January 29, 2010 1:47 PM

I wonder how hard it is to puncture such a blimp-drone. Would it be possible with RC model aircraft with some custom-built piercing equipment on board? Attacking from above, of course, as the cameras are directed downwards 🙂

With some software effort it could be even possible to hunt drones automatically without remote control (so the perpetrator couldn’t be found easily).

Just a thought…

Jacob January 29, 2010 3:37 PM

All I can say is WOW. I really need to adjust my thinking on that. I knew that “things” happened in N.I. but never read any details like that. You have got to give me a reading list. You appear to be very well informed with all the posts I have read. I prefer books with pictures and blues clues pawprints. 🙂

I have that same thought when I see rebel flags here. Civil War battles were not glorious or particularly honorable. The gore, maiming, amputations, infections, cannon balls moving like bowling balls. We as the human race should consider carefully. “Context can change a thing.”

The reason I read this blog is not just security but the posters and the broad subjects discussed.

Well nice to know someone is thinking along those lines even if the debate continues.

This is one of the best discussions yet. I am throughly enjoying and learning a great deal.

Now a favorite quote.
“Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.
Those who fail to learn history correctly are simply doomed.” paraphrased

Clive Robinson January 29, 2010 4:38 PM

@ Peter A.,

“I wonder how hard it is to puncture such a blimp-drone.”

Fairly simple puncture resistance is equatable with excess unwanted weight reducing the potential payload or “Optics Package” (to take a leaf out of the Nuke Camps terminology).

At 70ft long and about 20wide it is likley to have several gas cells of which the lose of one or two will not stop it being brought down moderatly safely.

Just for argument lets say that is the loss of just one cell might bring it’s maximum flight ceiling from 25Kft down to 20Kft, two cells 15Kft etc with say the loss of 1/3rd of the cells making it to heavy to get off the ground.

It is likley that there is a compensatory system of preasure loss and gas replacment etc.

“Would it be possible with RC model aircraft”

Not an “off the shelf” one. Getting to 25-30Kft is not going to be particularly quick or easy. And there is a drag-v-lift / time-v-fuel equation to work out (ie the greater the lift the more drag, thus the slower the climb time and the more fuel required).

Most RC engines are not designed to work at even 200ft let alone one hundred times that. Likewise variable rate pitch props are not standard on RC equipment. It would probably be wiser to splash the cash and get a couple of micro jet engines of the sort the Swiss “Bird Man” uses.

“with some custom-built piercing equipment on board?”

That would be very unwise for a number of reasons. It would be more cost effective and safer and a whole manner of other things to go and find a small caliber semi auto rife with electronic trigger and make a 30 or 50 round mag/feed system. The barrel is likley to be a bit on the heavy side but it would not be to difficult to strip it out put it in a lath and turn it down. A .22 rifled barrel can actually be made of quit thin walled metal that slides inside the barrel of a larger caliber weapon. H&K used to make “converters” for the likes of the BF 7.62 SLR. But you could take and ordinary “air rifle” barrel and turn it down in a lath untill tha wall was only 2 or 3 mm thick 50mm from the breach.

You would then mount this in a suitable tube support frame down the centerline of the aircraft (remember breach end hard mount soft mount for the barrel). You would need two miniture low light BW CCTV cameras and light weight 2.4GHz transmitter with a 20-50mW output. Also a light weight electronic compas & Differential GPS unit.

It would probably take around 12 weeks full time of a single skilled RC modeler to make such an airframe and test it out etc. But not something that has not been done before. During WWII the Germans developed a “fly by wire” drone aircraft to be flown out from the bomb bay of a maned aircraft.

Also various “over head” photo agencies have quite large “RC planes” that are just used to photograph entire strips of land which then get put up on the “Inter web” so we have a fair idea of where to start….

jacob January 29, 2010 8:36 PM

Would it be easier to simply jam the control signal? Or the video? It can’t be any more difficult than intercepting cell phones. It would probably be easier, even if encrypted unlike the military according to recent reports. If they can’t view the video it’s kind of hard to steer it. Overwhelm the signal then just let gravity and thrust drive it into the ground. “Watch CNN live coverage of the runaway craft”
The mars spacecraft (beagle) was driven 6ft into the martian soil by a mathematical error. I still find that humorous. Should have called it the darwin beagle.

Clive Robinson January 30, 2010 2:18 PM

@ jacob,

“Would it be easier to simply jam the control signal? Or the video? It can’t be any more difficult than intercepting cell phones.”

Saddly no. You have to think of it this way.

The blimp is at 20Kft, which means it’s coverage area is quite vast (to RF the horizon is about 1.2 times that of the visable horizon)

You have the blimp at a known point and any quit simple program will track it’s position sufficient for high gain LPDA or yargi antenna. Thus the jaming margine would be very very high. Even then some communiction modes (Spread Spectrum etc) add even grater margins. Unless you know where the important sites are jamming is not a realistic option.

Also as the blimp has an auto-pilot it’s path could have been pre-designated and the survalence could be being recorded in the device as well.

“The mars spacecraft (beagle) was driven 6ft into the martian soil by a mathematical error. I still find that humorous. Should have called it the darwin beagle.”

Yes it is a sad but not unknown problem with leading edge development.

Colin deserved a lot more for his efforts than he got when you consider the level of work and commitment he and his very small team put in. It’s a sad sign of the times that others with less effot but greater “public eye” get the acolades and honours.

jacob February 2, 2010 8:50 AM

I absolutely agree. I have more admiration for the teams that make do with less of a budget. It is more impressive to see someone come up with a theory that is right or results with less money and more outside the box thinking.

The rovers certainly lasted longer than anyone thought. The Genesis project comes to mind. I am looking forward to the pluto mission results.

Watched a show the other night about the mystery of where earth’s water came from. I’m a geek of sorts and find those type of topics interesting. Admitedly I am weird. I enjoy Planet Earth and Mr. Bean. (love most of UK shows) I’m still waiting for someone to come up with an explanation for the atmospheric gamma bursts. My money is on lightning causing it.

The subject being space exploration. The programming and chips are fascinating to me. The idea of receiving such a comparatively weak signal is amazing. I think our signals to ET would be lost in the background noise and vice versa, unless they start blinking stars at us. 🙂

bobbybnt February 10, 2010 10:59 PM

In the US, surveillance satellites have been monitoring the unsuspecting populace for years (see

According to a recent map published in TIME magazine, predator drones monitor all US border and costal regions, up to about 100 miles inland.

The US and the UK lead the world as the premier surveillance societies, according to Privacy International (see their map of surveillance socieities here —

Clive Robinson February 11, 2010 12:34 AM

@ bobbybnt,

“The US and the UK lead the world as the premier surveillance societies, according to Privacy International”


The US and the UK lead the world as the premier “debt ridden” societies…

Cause and effect perhaps?

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.