There was an arresting article recently in the Daily Telegraph written by Bruno Waterfield and Matthew Day that could have several important effects on our lives here in the UK when it comes to both time on the road and time in front of the TV.
In the article it suggested that the European Union is involved in the secret development of what they have called a “remote stopping device” which would be fitted to all cars that would allow the police to disable vehicles at the flick of a switch from a control room.
This of course is part of a plan to help the police when it comes to stopping any offenders or suspected offenders using vehicles for getaway means or for transporting illegal substances and materials (and humans) by taking over control of the vehicle and stopping it; effectively creating Remote Stop Cars and vans; and the newspaper reporters have discovered the secret meetings have taken place involving senior EU police officers, the documents from which set out a plan entitled "remote stopping vehicles" that would be used as part of wider plan to help them with law enforcement, surveillance and tracking of criminals and their vehicles.
One restricted document, quoted in the Daily telegraph says that: “The project will work on a technological solution that can be a 'build in standard' for all cars that enter the European market," meaning that the proposed device would be inserted into every new car by the 2020 under a “six-year developmental timetable.”
And this device would enable an operator (usually a police officer or designated employee) to cut the supply of fuel off to the engine and switch the ignition off in the selected vehicle – all from the comfort of a seat in front of a computer screen in a central location – rather than having to use current stopping techniques such as the puncturing of tyres and roadblocks, both of which are dangerous not only in themselves but to other road users, especially at the high speeds that these chases are usually performed at.
VERY BIG BROTHER, isn’t it?
The proposal was originally outlined by the secret meetings initiated by the European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies (Enlets) which itself is part of a secret working party looking at helping to encourage and enhance police co-operation across the EU. And already the remote stopping technology plans (along with others involving general surveillance) have been signed off by the EU's Standing Committee on Operational Co-operation on Internal Security (Cosi) – which means that senior British Home Office civil servants and police officers over here not only know about them but also support them.
A watchdog monitoring police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU called Statewatch were responsible for leaking the documents, mainly concerned about the rough treatment of civil liberties that the technology would create.
"We all know about the problems surrounding police stop and searches, so why will be these cars stopped in the first place," said Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch. "We also need to know if there is any evidence that this is a widespread problem. Let's have some evidence that this is a problem, and then let's have some guidelines on how this would be used."
Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, was also concerned that civil liberties were being threatened but also that, because it is part of a Cosi plan, parliament was being bypassed, saying: "The price we pay for surrendering our democratic sovereignty is that we are governed by an unaccountable secretive clique."
Even UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, was drawn into describing the planned measure as "incredible" and a "draconian imposition". "It is appalling they are even thinking of it," he said. "People must protest against this attack on their liberty and vote against an EU big Brother state during the Euro election in May." (Nothing like a good plug for his party at the same time, eh?)
But is a slight (perceived) infringement of liberty a small price to pay if criminals (or criminal suspects) are to be stopped? Already in the six years that it has been in place, Enlets has managed to back up its mission of "supporting front line policing and the fight against serious and organised crime by gathering user requirements, scanning and raising awareness of new technology and best practices, benchmarking and giving advice" by developing technology with regards to improving automatic number plate recognition and also improving intelligence sharing. So it is unsurprising that, although remote stop cars are a long way away from being developed, Enlets argue that they have their merits.
“Cars on the run can be dangerous for citizens. Criminal offenders will take risks to escape after a crime. In most cases the police are unable to chase the criminal due to a lack of efficient means to stop the vehicle safely."
Understandable; but technology is fallible. Which means that the warning from David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, should be heeded.
"I would be fascinated to know what the state's liability will be if they put these devices in all vehicles and one went off by accident whilst a car was doing 70mph on a motorway with a truck behind it resulting in loss of life," he said. "It is time legislators stopped believing technology is a form of magic and realised that is fallible, and those failures do real harm."
So that’s the dangers to those on the road. But what about that time in front of the TV that I mentioned very early in this blog?
That’s quite simple because at the moment there are a lot of programmes on television such as “Police Camera Action” and “Road Wars” that rely on high speed police chases to keep the attention of the viewer. Will they do when the technology comes in (if it does) so that all cars are remote stop cars?
“The boys in blue have noticed that the car in front is driving erratically and turn on the blues and two to get him to pull over...but he doesn’t want to and puts the metal to the floor. But then the police operate remote stopping and he is arrested.”
YAWN! When’s Family Guy on?