The EU Just Made Emergency Call Tech in Cars Mandatory. But What About People’s Privacy?

Probably one of the most controversial decisions made by the European Parliament in recent years, regarding the automotive segment, was adopted this week. The legislative branch of the European Union ruled that starting with 2018, all cars made and sold in the EU must be fitted with the eCall technology. In case you didn’t know, eCall is a European initiative that aims at reducing the number of casualties on its roads by helping out first responders with vital information. Basically, in case of an accident, cars fitted with this sort of devices will automatically call 911 (112 in Europe) and send information such as the number of occupants, the car type and fuel used to paramedics. This way, they are prepared to act before reaching the site of the accident. It all sounds good, in theory, saving lives by preparing those in charge of getting us out of trouble beforehand. However, a lot of people have expressed concerns about the fact that we’d be forced to give up on our privacy by having these things installed on our cars. This issue is the reason this law wasn’t passed back in 2012 when the initiative was proposed for the first time. Back then, various voices opposed the project because the eCall system provided too much information to third party entities. Now, after being revised, the initiative passed but not without some voices still claiming that it is wrong to make things mandatory. "Forcing drivers to have a device installed in their car, which is capable of recording and transmitting exactly where and when they are driving, is totally unacceptable,” said Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch. But why exactly is that? Wouldn’t it be nice to have an automated system to call 911 in case you’re knocked out or incapable of using the phone? In theory, the tech is extremely useful. As a matter of fact, people will be able to use it independently, in case they spot an accident in a remote area. Let’s say you’re driving on a highway, in one of the countries in the EU and spot an accident. Being far away from home, chances are you won’t know either the language or the exact location where it all happened. All you have to do to call help is press the eCall button in your car, and paramedics will be sent your way. However, the downside is that we don’t know exactly who has access to all of this info. Furthermore, the GPS tracking will be on at all times, reading your driving habits and your daily trips, knowing everything you do while inside your car. Sure, protesters managed to make sure the data sent over is reduced to the type of vehicle and fuel used, time of accident and location of the crash but that last bit is enough to learn all about you. Now imagine advertisers want access to your driving habits to interpret them and try and sell you stuff. They could gain access to the data and know exactly how to ‘work’ you in order to make you buy things without even realizing it. Can’t happen? Just earlier this year a BMW official said that they have already received offers for such valuable data from a variety of companies, for big money. That was for cars using their advanced navigation system but imagine that all models built after 2018 will have GPS trackers on them. That’s a big target to reach, and most marketers will find it irresistible. Sure, for now car makers are ‘resisting the urge to sell this data’ but for how long will they be able to keep it up? What happens after that? According to the European Commission, that will never happen.
"We are frequently getting contacted by citizens concerned that by having eCall installed in their vehicles, their location will be continuously tracked, their driving habits monitored, and their private life infringed," the EC said.

"[But] there are absolutely no reasons to be worried about your privacy. Confusion should be avoided between the public Pan European 112 eCall that is proposed by the EC and other private road safety systems."

Furthermore, it seems like the system will always be dormant, and it will be activated only when airbag sensors are triggered, otherwise no data will be recorded or shared without consent.

That sounds good in theory but how long will it take until somebody abuses it or until law enforcement decides that those GPS trackers should be used for other purposes as well?

I mean, just as the European Parliament simply decided that we should all use these features, they could go ahead in the future and decided that they should be on at all times. All in the name of safety!

You see, that’s the biggest problem here: not allowing people to choose. Sure, we can hide behind all sorts of pretenses and claim that it’s all for the better good but in the end the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Forcing people to wear GPS trackers on their cars doesn’t seem right as far as privacy is concerned. A more logical approach would’ve been to force manufacturers to offer the system free of charge and then let people decide how valuable their lives are.

According to the EU, manufacturers will only spend around $100 on average, per car, to install the eCall system. That’s a number that could be subsidized by the European Union, and then we could all at least have a choice in the matter.
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