Speed Cameras: the greatest scam on earth

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The Daily Mail of 29 December 2007 ran a front page article about a new breed of DVD-quality speed cameras. They record to high-quality DVD and they’re always on; an operative views the tapes and issues tickets at the click of a button — for example if you’re eating a sandwich, glancing away from the road, or giving the camera the two-fingered salute.

Traffic safety is an excuse; they are after the money in fines. Write to your MP.


The Daily Mail archives its stories online, bless them, so I could read this fascinating article: undercover reporters posing as police officials visit Tele-Traffic. (If you ever got a ticket — Tele-Traffic made the camera.) Jon Bond, boss of Tele-Traffic and ex-traffic cop, explains frankly how things work.

In effect, central government gives local police quotas for speeding tickets to ‘harvest’ from motorists. If they make the quota they pay up and keep any extra fines they impose. If they don’t make the quota, they are themselves fined.

Who ever heard of a quota of crimes?

‘So what?’, I hear you say, ‘Think of it as a tax!’ Well, taxes are a levy on economic activity, which gives government a direct interest in a strong economy.

Fines are different. You can fine people whether they are economically active or not. Local authorities need only lower speed limits, invent new categories of traffic offences, invest in more surveillance, conceal their speed cameras, or fine you for the privilege of having guests. This is the infamous ‘Controlled Parking Zone’ — a week after first posting this essay online — I got a note from the council saying they were about to introduce the scheme.

Traffic fines are throwback to a feudal system. Remember Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham? Feudal ‘taxation’ was based on quotas handed down from the the King to lords like the Sheriff of Nottingham. When the Sheriff needed to make up tax money he rode out and relieved a village of its valuables. That is what Robin Hood was celebrated for fighting: a hapazard, pilfering, and primitive system of revenue collection. (The revenue was going to fund a war in the Middle East, but that’s another story.)

In the old days the Church told people that the status quo God’s will. Now we are asked to worship traffic safety. The hypocrisy is identical.


There’s a phrase in law: reasonable expectation of privacy. That means that if someone peering through a gap in your curtains sees you undressing, then you’re not guilty of indecency. You have a reasonable exectation of privacy in your own home with the curtains drawn.

If you undress in the street, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Lovers who make out in the back seat of a car can be prosecuted for indecency, because on the street, even inside a car, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy (unless it’s a camper van).

Now the police can record your every move, and with the current fashion for fines, it is convenient and renumerative to sit in an office watching DVDs of people driving (instead of fighting criminals, who may spit, kick, run, shoot, and generally misbehave).

Fines are a drug. The easy money corrupts. It encourages bullying. Income based on fines depends on restricting liberty; it gives government a direct interest in telling you what not to do. Taxes, for all their faults (i.e. distorting behaviour) at least give government some interest to give us freedom and options to generate wealth.

I propose a reasonable expectation of being ignored.

This means the right to go about your life without being watched just in case you slip up.

The DVD surveillance violates your reasonable expectation of being ignored. They’re not watching you because they suspect you in particular, they’re watching you and lots of people like you in the expectation — the hope — that somebody, somewhere will make a mistake. Nothing serious, because that would involve expensive police work; just enough to click a button and harvest a fine. Likewise for ‘litter police’ who stalk people eating fish and chips in case a chip falls to the ground so that they can levy a littering fine (before you can pick it up again). Likewise for speed cameras.

There are many analogies for the kind of protection we now need.

An analogy: price fixing is when companies agree not to compete, with the intention of keeping profits high. When European vitamin companies conspired to keep prices artificially high, this was prosecuted as a crime and their ill-gotten gains were confiscated.

I propose by analogy that fine fixing should be illegal. If it can be demonstrated, as the interview with Jon Bond demonstrates, that fines are being used with the intention of increasing revenue, then this should be a crime.

An analogy: data protection is a principle that an organisation cannot exploit data on you except in specific ways. The police can’t inspect your phone records or phone conversations on the offchance that you make an indiscreet phone call.

I propose by analogy a further principle of data respect: traffic police shouldn’t trawl data (such as DVD footage of people minding their own business) on the offchance that they commit a minor traffic offence.


Fines are big nowadays; they bring in money. This activity is parasitic. It transfers money without generating any wealth — another word for that is theft. The people engaged in it should be stopped and put to work doing something better and more useful.

The intrusive surveillance and the justification with ‘safety’ and ‘the law’ is dangerous, unproductive, and corrupting. Principles of liberty and freedom, and our right to mind our own business, are being assaulted by sticky-fingered bureaucracy.