UK: Police push ahead with remote vehicle stopping technology despite "Big Brother" concerns

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British police and government officials are pushing ahead with plans to deploy technology that would allow vehicles to be stopped at a distance, although the idea is widely disliked - nearly half of all respondents to a recent poll felt that it could potentially "lead to a Big Brother state" and that "remote stopping technology could be abused by the police."

In January this year Statewatch reported that the European Network for Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS) had adopted a six-year work programme that included a remote stopping "technological standard that can be a 'build in standard' for all cars that enter the European market." The work is being led by the UK. [1]

Now it seems that alongside the project for built-in remote stopping devices (which already exists in some vehicles in the US), [2] British officials are hoping to make use of devices allowing them to stop vehicles by remotely shutting down their fuel systems.

Police Oracle reported in April that a new device based on "Radio Frequency (RF) technology, [and] which emits a microwave beam, has been identified as having significant potential in stopping pursuits before they begin."

The magazine noted a meeting in mid-April at which "senior roads policing professionals" and "Home Office ministers" discussed "formal tests on devices from a range of manufacturers. "

Inspector Craig Clifton, staff officer to the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on police pursuits, Deputy Chief Constable Andy Holt, told Police Oracle:

"[I]t emits microwave signals from an aerial and would be effective on most vehicles.

"It will shut down things like fuel pumps and stop the engine. We have been doing some work on how areas such as the braking system will be affected, but effectively a driver will be left in the same position as if they had run out of fuel.

"Potentially these devices could have a number of applications - they could, for example, be deployed in a static position in the same way as a Stinger or over road gantries and linked to ANPR [Automatic Number Plate Recognition].

"If officers are mobile and behind a vehicle they could also be used - if it is appropriate to do so. However, the deployment of the device would all form part of the protocols that need to be established."

It is unclear which particular devices are being investigated further, but one company - e2v - demonstrated its technology at the DSEi arms fair in September last year, and has reportedly "stimulated interest from 17 nations and five UK government bodies." [4]

Public opinion seems split on the prospect of the police obtaining remote stopping technology, at least judging by the responses of motorists polled at the beginning of April.

A poll undertake by the insurance website found that almost half of those questioned (47%) felt that the technology could "lead to a Big Brother state," while 46% "were concerned police could abuse their new powers." 29% of those questioned felt that the technology "could lead to more accidents that it prevents."

Conversely, 48% "said they would back the idea if it meant they could activate the device themselves in, for example, the evening of their car being stolen."

Julie Daniels, head of motor insurance for said: "Our research shows there is still some work to be done before the UK supports remote stopping, with real concern around civil liberties." [5]

Further reading

  • 'New police cooperation plan includes surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping technology', Statewatch News Online, January 2014

    [1] 'New police cooperation plan includes surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping technology', Statewatch News Online, January 2014
    [2] Andrew Nusca, 'GM's OnStar remote vehicle slowdown feature stops carjacking', Smartplanet, 21 October 2009
    [3] Cliff Caswell, 'New device 'could be final word on pursuits', Police Oracle, 21 April 2014
    [4] Jason Ford, 'Radio-beam device can disable car and boat engines from 50m', The Engineer, 16 October 2013
    [5] Ben Griffin, 'Motorosts say no to remote stopping in cars', recombu, 2 April 2014

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