British government ministers have admitted they are powerless to stop the European Union forcing car manufacturers to put GPS tracking chips in all cars sold in the UK by October 2015. The chips, called ‘eCall’, will record every movement the car makes and alert emergency services in the event of a crash.
Privacy campaigners, however, have warned that the technology could be abused by police and insurance companies in order to track car journeys.
The government also believes that the technology will add at least £100 to the cost of vehicles, without providing any real security improvements.
The European Commission has commanded that every car throughout Europe must have the chips by 2015, but the Mail on Sunday reports that British ministers are sceptical of the changes. Transport Minister Robert Goodwell wrote to MPs saying: “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.”
Car manufacturers such as BMW and Volvo already include the devices in their latest models, and drivers across Europe can volunteer to have the devices installed. Uptake has been slow, however, so the European Commission has said that all cars must now be fitted with the technology. Car owners will not be able to turn the devices off, and they will be checked in compulsory annual government vehicle inspections.
Brussels insists that the system will save up to 2,500 lives per year across Europe, but a report by the European Parliament warned that manufacturers may be able to sell access to the chips’ data to insurance companies and other firms, constantly updating them on the car’s exact location.
It calls for “strict safeguards” against “unlawful” use of the data.