The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Who could object to reducing road traffic accident deaths and injuries ?
Why not introduce a European Union wide plan called eCall, the pan-European in-vehicle emergency call system, which would make use of the forthcoming E112 Emergency Services phone numbers, with added Global Positioning Satellite and/or Mobile Phone Location based data, to automatically call the emergemncy services with location information and other data like the license plate number, make and model of the vehicle etc. in the event of a car accident, even if the driver of the vehicle is unconscious, and establish a voice call with an emergency operator if they are not.
All well and good, however, the latest plan which has been announced:
The 2nd eSafety Communication BRINGING ECALL TO CITIZENS(.pdf) (available in other European Union languages}
Where are the safeguards to prevent abuse of the system, for the vast majority of the time when your vehicle has not been involved in an accident ? The reliance on mobile phone technology means that the devices will have to establish a handshake with the nearest base stations, tracking every vehicle, even if no emergency call is being made.
This eCall technology is almost indistinguishable from that used by the police or the security services to electronically tag and remotely trail serious organised criminals, terrorists or spies, or for electronically tagging criminals.
Since his eCall plan uses technology virtually indistiguishable from that proposed by Transport Minister Alistair Darling's "satellite tracking road tolls" mass surveillance plans, what plans, if any are there to combine the systems, or is there simply going to be duplication of infrastructure and in car unit equipment costs ?
A very large percentage of vehicle accidents occur within a couple of hundred metres of the starting point of a journey, due to driver inattention, alocohol, drugs, distractions by mobile phones, screaming children etc. Unless these eCall devices are active all the time, powered by the car battery, they will not be able to establish an accurate Global Positioning Satellite location fix for these accidents, a process which can easily take 5 minutes or so , to lock onto the minimum 4 satellite time signals, especiallay in urban areas with tall buildings or overhanging trees etc.
This plan, presumably because it only focusses on road safety, does not appear to include any Privacy or Security risk assessment, or any requirement that the eCall system has such features built into it from the start.
By the way, the plan has already been agreed, by the "stakeholders" (i.e. EU bureaucrats and automotive industry and telecomms suppliers, but not any actual members of the public, or any privacy or security or civil liberties groups)) and all new vehicles in the European Union will have this eCall technology built into them from September 2009 onwards, unless you tell your politicians to scrutinise this plan properly, before it is finalised.