London’s top bobby, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, wants the power to stop your car remotely. Though he says no such project is in development, he mentioned that it would be the perfect tool to stop criminals and make car chases obsolete.
He was talking with the elected assembly members on matters of police tactics and how technology could be used to aid law enforcement. When asked by UKIP London Assembly member Peter Whittle whether drones could perhaps be used to chase fleeing criminals, Hogan-Howe answered:
My ideal scenario would be that we'd have a device that slowed down the car in front. If there was a way of intervening in the electronic management of the car – it may sound far-fetched but these things can be developed and, of course, now cars have got more electronic brains, so that for me that would be a great opportunity to safely slow down the vehicle in front. I can't say that's there at the moment.
The commissioner seemed to be suggesting that cars could be equipped with a police-accessible system that would allow the authorities to take control of the vehicle if needed. Clearly showing he doesn’t understand how modern, internet-technology works, Hogan-Howe’s suggestion would seem to slightly tread over the line of civil liberties and individual freedom, not to mention the right to privacy.
But even if those aspects are completely ignored, the technological challenges involved in creating such a system and keeping it secure are huge. The question is reminiscent of the debate for a specially created backdoor into secure programs, that many governments would like to see implemented into our technology. It’s also reminiscent of the doomed-to-fail, NSA-made “Clipper chip”, from back in the 90s, which was supposed to only allow law enforcement access to otherwise encrypted communications.
As our cars become more and more reliant on computers, and they become connected to the internet, privacy and security become more important than ever, so we’re bound to continue this debate going forward.
Until then though, might we suggest that the Metropolitan Police buy everyone a Tesla Model S? They were recently shown to come with just such a kill-switch “feature”, although it was accessible to a few more people than just the police.