CHESHIRE Constabulary is to adopt new technology which can pinpoint a registration number from thousands of feet in the air.
A police spokesman confirmed that the Cheshire was one of the forces which will adopt a new generation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology which is already in use by police forces in countries including the USA, Canada, Norway and Luxembourg.
Concerns have been expressed that the cameras will be a further example of 'spy technology' being brought to bear on motorists but the spokesman stressed that the primary purpose of the camera's use in Cheshire is dealing with criminals, rather than using it for catching speeding drivers.
The equipment will be installed on the Cheshire force aeroplane and precise plans for the way it will be used will be established once the equipment has been purchased.
The spokesman said :'We are not due to get the technology until the spring time, possibly May.
'We would stress that the primary purpose of this improved technology for the force plane is to improve our capability to deal with criminals who are using the roads of Cheshire to commit crime.
'Using the technology to catch speeding motorists is not its primary purpose.
'When we get the full technology we will be able to work out our operating procedures.'
The forces earmarked for the technology claim that its use in the short term is to slash the rate of road deaths, but there is widespread speculation that the equipment could be a key element in a pay per mile system should such technology ever be adopted.
Developed by Canadian company Wescam, the equipment is said to work even at night.
Already controversial is the imminent expansion of the automatic number plate re-cognition system in the coming year, but Government ministers are said to be bracing themselves for a backlash if the ANPR system is made self funding, with fines being poured back into the expansion of the network.
Under the current ANPR system, registration numbers are automatically identified and compared against a database containing information including a vehicle's road tax and insurance status and whether it is reported stolen
However, in answer to a question posed in parliament by Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake in November last year, information was provided by the Government which suggests that the ANPR technology in current use could be far from perfect.
Mr Brake said: 'It is extremely worrying that during the trial project nearly one in five of cars were incorrectly identified by these number plate spies.
'This is an alarming prospect. Honest motorists may find themselves summonsed for offences they have not committed.
'We need to find out the exact nature of the inaccuracies and why they are there. If things are going wrong we need to know if the DVLA is to blame.'
He added: 'Clearly the system can be useful in tracking down criminals wanted by the police, but there are still problems that need to be resolved.'