A challenge of the highest order
I always enjoy receiving my copy of Ingenia and am impressed by the quality and interesting range of its articles.
However, I must take exception to a statement in your recent editorial A challenge of the highest order relating to the crime rate and police revenue-earning activities.
Fines collected for moving traffic offences, as for all other offences, go entirely to the central government (Lord Chancellor’s Department). There is no scope for police forces to look at motoring offences as a revenue-earning activity. Parking regulations are increasingly devolved to local authorities who do have some scope to gain income. However, in some areas, as a pilot for a national launch, police authorities are allowed to retain speeding fines until the costs of installing and operating ‘safety cameras’ are recovered.
In Northamptonshire, where I am a member of the local Police Authority, there has been a significant investment in both fixed and mobile cameras. This has resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of drivers exceeding speed limits and, much more importantly, a reduction in the number of serious casualties on our roads. We claim that as a result of the initiative 20 fewer people have been killed over the last 12-month period than we would expect from past experience. Speeding fine income has paid for the investment and operating costs and there has still been a surplus sent to central government.
Contrary to popular belief, crime rates are not increasing. The British Crime Survey which is generally regarded as a more reliable assessment of total crime than police ‘recorded crime’ figures shows an increasing fall in the number of crimes in recent years.
There are differences in the way different forces record crimes and there have been various moves to increase the number recorded, especially relating to racist incidents, domestic violence and vandalism. There has also been a move to relate crimes to victims rather than events; for instance, criminal damage in a car park by one vandal was formerly counted as one crime but now will be the number of cars damaged. There are moves to enforce a consistent approach across all police forces.
I may have laboured this point but it is a matter of concern that in this country the fear of crime is greater than the actual risk. This disproportionately worries some people and impacts upon their quality of life. The fear is increased by reading material that is not true.
O.M. Davies FREng
The Editor replies: There seems to be an aspect of contradiction in your letter. Though you protest at my assertion about fines from traffic offences, you do acknowledge that these are being used as revenueearning activities to fund more activity in these areas. You may also wish to look at more recent statistics for violent street crime (robbery, mugging and other forms of personal attack) in cities like London, which are rising at enormous rates and markedly affecting the attitude to daily life of many people.
A challenge of the highest order
I would like to write in response to the editorial by John Forrest in the November issue of Ingenia. There are certain questions of privacy raised about the mandatory imposition of identity cards which are not as simple as the article portrays, but more importantly, there is evidence that the use of simple security mechanisms has the opposite effect in terms of actually preventing or improving the chances of apprehension of criminals or terrorists – as engineers we have to evaluate things properly, and I have been working with colleagues in the Foundation for Information Policy Research to help provide expertise and education concerning the appropriate balances to be struck between individual rights and effective support for both intelligence and evidence gathering.
The awful events of September 11th would not have been affected by mandated identity cards since the perpetrators already had photo-ids (passports) in any case. There is evidence that in countries where photo-ids are mandatory (e.g. Germany), other forms of checking are carried out less well. The whole system and process must be thought through before jumping to solutions that are superficially attractive, but in fact have many unintended consequences.
There are many experts in this area in the UK (e.g. in the University of Cambridge, at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College in London University, and at UCL) who have experience in the analysis of these types of systems, and I would encourage people to talk to those with a solid understanding of the overall problems before rushing to give up certain freedoms which are the very source of envy of our mutual enemies.
It is often said that ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’. This is true. That does not mean that it entails eternal surveillance.
Jon Crowcroft FREng
Marconi Professor of Communications Systems
University of Cambridge
The Editor replies: Your comments about the balance between optimum security and optimum privacy are well taken. This is one of the most difficult issues that we will have to tackle in the years ahead. Only around half a dozen countries in the world now do not have some form of national ID system. It will undoubtedly come to those remaining countries, but the concluding point of my editorial was to stress, as you do, that we need to put major multi-disciplinary effort into designing such systems to meet the concerns that you and some others undoubtedly have.
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