The Sunday Times newspaper revealed today (in three articles) secret government plans examining "electronic vehicle identification" (EVI).
|Goodbye speed cameras, hello
a spy in every car (click
August 24, 2003. Robert Winnett and Dipesh
EVEN George Orwell would have choked.
Government officials are drawing up plans to fit all cars in Britain with a personalised microchip so that rule-breaking motorists can be prosecuted by computer.
Dubbed the “Spy in the Dashboard” and “the Informer” the chip will automatically report a wide range of offences including speeding, road tax evasion and illegal parking. The first you will know about it is when a summons or a fine lands on your doormat.
The plan, which is being devised by the government, police and other enforcement agencies, would see all private cars monitored by roadside sensors wherever they travelled.
Police working on the “car-tagging” scheme say it would also help to slash car theft and even drug smuggling.
The “Big Brother” scheme, outlined in documents shown to The Sunday Times and separate from the various congestion charging schemes being tested, has outraged civil liberties groups who claim the electronic vehicle identification (EVI) programme is draconian and an infringement of human rights. Even those less inclined to worry about Big Brother are likely to take offence. Tony Blackburn, the radio DJ and car buff, said: “What are they going to do next? Start putting chips in people to make sure we are eating properly?” The Department for Transport (DfT) is co-ordinating the project, the main impetus for which appears to have come from the police and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
The first part of an initial feasibility study, an 85-page document drafted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, is already complete and lists 47 possible applications for EVI.
Written by Superintendent Jim Hammond, head of Sussex traffic police, it acknowledges “Big Brother concerns” but sets out the benefits. Stolen cars could quickly be traced and uninsured drivers would automatically be identified.
It also notes that cars driven by terrorist suspects or drug smugglers could be monitored even in Europe if, as officials in Brussels envisage, EVI is introduced across the European Union.
The DfT has hired management consultants to co- ordinate the development of the system, which it is thought could become operational by 2007.
New vehicles could have identification chips, containing unique driver details, embedded in their chassis, while older vehicles could have “tagged” numberplates installed when they had an MoT test.
The existing network of roadside sensors, set up by traffic-monitoring companies and the Highways Agency, would require minimal modification to be used for EVI tracking.
The government is likely to face opposition from motoring groups. “We need to have an open discussion about what this technology is being used for, who is being tracked and for what purpose, and what could be the hidden agenda,” said Bert Morris, deputy director of the AA Motoring Trust.
Al Clarke, a spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “It is a case of whether society wants to accept it. We support speed cameras as a means of deterrence but not installing a fruit machine for the Inland Revenue or Customs in every car.”
The DfT confirmed that EVI was being considered.
Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: “This could turn every driver into a potential suspect.” It warned that motorists’ details held on a central computer could form the basis of a “stalkers’ charter” if accessed by hackers.
|The Informer: a car that
will tell the police everything (click
August 24, 2003. Robert Winnett
THE pile of brown envelopes arriving on your doormat reveals you exceeded the speed limit by 10mph on the way to the shops, accidentally strayed into the bus lane and stopped on a yellow box junction. Your MoT ran out last week and you drove too close to the car in front on the motorway.
The upshot is a large payment to the government for motoring offences you may have been unaware you had committed. No camera flashed, no policeman flagged you down, but a hidden chip in your new car was picked up by radio waves seemingly monitoring your every move.
This is not some far-flung vision of the future but a plan set out in official documents that could begin to take shape within the next four years. Britain is leading the world in considering the merits of new electronic vehicle identification (EVI) technology, but the government has not yet had the stomach to go public with its aspirations.
In June Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, finally admitted he was seriously considering introducing tolls on roads after 2010 and that people could be tracked and charged by satellite. But according to those involved in the EVI project, road pricing is a small part of a far wider agenda.
EVI is set to trigger a fierce debate about how far civil liberties should be infringed in the interests of stamping out crime and increasing safety. The police argue it will allow them to track down a terrorist suspect, drug smuggler or car thief. They could type in the electronic ID number of a car, wait until it passed one of thousands of roadside sensors, then pick up the perpetrator.
The 10% of uninsured drivers who push up premiums by £30 for everyone else would quickly be identified, while dangerous cars without MoTs would be forced off the roads. About 26% of all crime is vehicle related and 30% of stolen vehicles are never recovered.
But motoring organisations believe this is a high price to pay for the thousands of drivers who could be ensnared daily for relatively minor offences. They already claim many speed cameras — a far less ruthless device than EVI — are simply a tool for raising money.
While the debate rages about the benefits and drawbacks the government is quietly laying the technological groundwork for the scheme. A report commissioned by the Department for Transport from PA Consulting identifies six types of technology — from barcodes to radio chips and even mini- satellite transmitters — that could be used for EVI.
Each would electronically communicate your registration number, car make and colour, tax status, MoT, insurance details and registered owner and address. The relative costs and merits of each system are being calculated by a second PA Consulting study.
All but the most sophisticated in-car technology would require roadside sensors, networks that have already been set up by traffic-monitoring companies and the Highways Agency on major routes.
On motorways the government would only need to use a sensor before and after each slip road to catch speeding motorists. A computer database containing details of every driver would communicate with the sensors and check that each vehicle was legal.
The Transport Research Laboratory, which is testing the technologies, is believed to think electronic chips, or tags, embedded in the chassis are the simplest and most secure.
Hills Number Plates, the country’s largest plate supplier, began selling a microchipped plate earlier this year that could be used for EVI. If bought in large numbers, the plates cost only an extra £5 each.
Fitting Britain’s 37.5m licensed vehicles with the plates could be almost covered in a year if the Treasury managed to reclaim the £185m it loses in unpaid vehicle excise duty annually.
If the government can persuade society of the benefits of EVI it could let in similar initiatives. The Home Office has already held discussions with mobile phone firms, computer companies and boat manufacturers about implanting chips.
|Leader: Back-seat tax collector
The Sunday Times - Comment
August 24, 2003
Motorists dread the back-seat driver who mars the freedom of the open road with usually unhelpful observations about their speed and driving ability. The modern equivalent is the speed camera, proliferating alarmingly, which has the effect of turning normally sensible road users into dangerous obsessives, slowing down sharply at the sight of one of these yellow perils and desperately scanning the rear-view mirror for the telltale flashes which show that they have been caught. Now technology is moving in such a way that even these tactics will not work. If you thought the speed camera was bad, there is worse in store. If the traffic police, government officials and the European Union have their way, we will all soon have an electronic back- seat driver in the car with us, monitoring our every move.
Electronic vehicle identification (EVI), which could be fitted to every car in four to five years, will provide a record of where we travel and how we do it. Performing an illegal U-turn or driving through a red light could be picked up by it, as will driving a car that is not taxed, insured or carrying a valid MoT certificate. Tracking whether we are speeding or not becomes a straightforward matter, one of simply recording how quickly a vehicle has travelled between two roadside sensors and automatically generating a speeding ticket. The Association of Chief Police Officers has identified 47 ways that it will benefit from the new system, including parking offences.
As always, there is a trade-off here between civil liberties and road safety. The new system could help to keep dangerous drivers off the road. It will also assist in tracking down stolen vehicles and those being driven without tax, insurance and proper safety checks. The suspicion, however, will be that the system will mainly be used to clamp down further on normally law-abiding drivers and to extract spurious fines from them, while the real lawbreakers continue to get away with it. Motorists do not need a back- seat driver to remind them that this is what usually happens in Britain.
|Safe Speed comments
We acknowledge the copyright of the The Times and The Sunday Times in the articles reproduced here. We have emailed asking for permission to republish. If they refuse we may have to remove their excellent articles from this page.
As for the technology described and the insane power crazed and excessively simplistic thinking behind it, we give the Government full notice right here and now that such a scheme will not be tolerated.
Any significant developments will be posted to this page.
Go away Big Brother. You are not welcome here.
Safe Speed - exposing stupidity in government
Created 24/08/2003. Last update 24/08/2003