The British Newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that, if senior European law enforcement officials have their way, all cars entering the European market may soon be fitted with a remote shutdown device that would allow police officers to electronically deactivate any vehicle at the touch of a button.
According to the article, which appeared in the paper’s January 29 edition, the program came to light after confidential documents from the European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies listing the development of a remote shutdown device as a “key objective” were obtained by an organization that monitors police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU. The report goes on to say that the secret papers justify the program by citing the need to protect the public from dangerous high speed chases and that the technology would put an end to the practice of spiking a car’s tires in order to end a chase. The documents, The Telegraph says, spell out a six year development plan.
Similar car stopping technology is already available on some vehicles in the United States via systems like On Star but, unlike what is being proposed in Europe, as of this writing remote shut-down on this side of the Atlantic is offered only to a car’s owner and can only be activated at their request. Still, once the technology is fully developed and mandated in Europe, chances are good that it will find its way to the United States and, given the way that most cars currently bundle their technology, it will probable be impossible to remove.
The application of this technology could change the way law enforcement works. More than simply putting an end to high speed chases, the system could conceivably be used in situations similar to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and allow the police to shut down every car in the immediate vicinity of a fleeing suspect to prevent them from seizing control of other vehicles. Paired with systems like GPS, it could also be used to stop cars from entering disaster zones or other restricted areas and, taken to its extreme, the technology could even incorporate additional features like remote door locks that could be activated in order to contain suspects inside of a disabled vehicle until law enforcement arrives to make the arrest.
This then, is more than our cars being used to track our movements or using our on-board technology to report us when we exceed the speed limit, this is our cars being actively taken out of our control and possibly even used to imprison us against our wills should some law enforcement officer watching our actions via a camera from the safety of a computer console in a secure room believe that we are a threat to public safety. Like so many other innovations, I see the real public benefit of this system if it is used correctly, but I also fear the potential for mayhem if it is misapplied. It will be interesting to watch the debate now that the development of this system has gone public.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.