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EU to Place Trackers in British Cars?

Under plans proposed by the European Commission, every new car or van sold in Britain from next year will be required to have a ‘black box’ tracking device.

Under plans proposed by the European Commission, every new car or van sold in Britain from next year will be required to have a ‘black box’ tracking device. The move has raised concerns among UK civil rights groups and government ministers about the privacy implications of such devices and cost is also an issue. The Government, however, has conceded that it has no power to halt the introduction of the technology. The tracking device will be used to help emergency services find vehicles that have been involved in an accident. It is thought that the device will cost upwards of £100 and the British Government is adamant that this does not add any safety improvements that would justify the cost.
The European Commission has already ruled that every car or van sold in Europe from October 2015 must be fitted with the black boxes. The technology includes a type of SIM card, similar to that found in a mobile phone, which can transmit the vehicle’s precise location in the event of any crash. The Government fears that this system, called eCall, could also be used by insurance companies and police to monitor the movements of motorists. The Department of Transport is leading resistance to the introduction of the system and transport minister, Robert Goodwill, has already written to MPs to set out the case against the technology. 
He said: “The basis for our opposition is that costs to the UK outweigh the benefits. Unfortunately, there is very little support for the UK position and no possibility of blocking this legislation. We are working with other member states to minimise the potential burdens on manufacturers and the potential cost to consumers. With regard to the rules on privacy and data protection, other member states have expressed similar concerns to us, about the potential for constant tracking of vehicles via the eCall system.”
A spokesperson for the civil liberties group, Big Brother Watch, also added their concerns. Emma Carr said: “Motorists will not be comfortable forcibly having a black box installed which is capable of recording and transmitting their exact location when they are driving.”
The technology, however, is already present in some of the cars we drive. Some models from Volvo and BMW, for example, include the device. In these cars there is an SOS button on the dashboard that is linked to a SIM card. This allows drivers to call 999 easily and quickly, perhaps when injured. If the car has been in an accident that has caused the airbags to be deployed, the SIM automatically transmits a text message to emergency services, containing the vehicle ID number and its location. This feature has been offered as an option on many cars but the take-up has been slow. The EU has therefore decided to make the technology mandatory from October 1 2015. The gadget will be tested in the MOT check and drivers will not be able to switch it off.
Legislation on the new device was voted for in the EU parliament in April and the first draft of the new law is due to be published in late May. The British Government is trying to delay the introduction by two years. It is also calling for changes in the wording of the legislation to include an assurance on the privacy issues it has identified with eCall. These were pointed out in a European Parliament legal report published earlier in the year. This report highlighted concerns around the system’s manufacturers hoping to offer additional services around the black box devices, such as selling the data to recovery firms and insurers. The EU Data Protection Supervisor has also published a study in which it highlights the ‘potential intrusiveness’ of the system, due to the fact that it works on the same basis as mobile phones and could therefore be used to collect constant data from vehicles. The EU, however, says that the system could save 2,500 lives across Europe each year by helping emergency services to decrease response times.

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