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'Big Brother' - the price of self-driving cars

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Privacy campaigners have called in the national press for a debate over possible future car technologies being considered by the European Union.

The Guardian "can reveal" today that the UK government "are the main backers" of the EU's Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems (CVIS), details of which "will be unveiled this year".

Under the plans, every vehicle would be fitted with a data radio which would emit a regular "heartbeat" of information into the CVIS network. This would permit anyone with official access to the network to locate and track any moving vehicle in real time. Brussels officials involved in the project think that such equipment could be fitted to new vehicles as soon as 2013, and that European nations might choose to make it compulsory.

Actually, quite a lot of details regarding CVIS have been revealed already, here. And the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) doesn't keep its interest secret either. CVIS would be very useful for the DfT's "managed motorway" toll-lane and speed-enforcement plans, which it thinks will be essential to manage coming increases in traffic while largely doing without major new roadbuilding. So yes, it's quite reasonable to say that the UK is "one of the main backers" of the idea.

But:

The Guardian has been given unpublished documents detailing the proposed uses for the system. They confirm that it could have profound implications for privacy, enabling cars to be tracked to within a metre - more accurate than current satellite navigation technologies.

The European commission has asked governments to reserve radio frequency on the 5.9 Gigahertz band, essentially setting aside a universal frequency on which CVIS technology will work.

Blimey - secret documents!

Well, not so much. The documents were given to the Graun by an unnamed podcast interviewee. He was given them by the sinister Brussels CVIS people themselves, so that people could debate the idea and discuss it. They also offer exhaustively complete details on the system for download, here, and have even gone so far as to hold a developer contest for their proposed "open" network architecture - details and SDK here.

The idea of the CVIS tech would be to offer direct vehicle-to-vehicle comms within 500m, and connection to the wider network via nodes in motorway gantries, cell towers, road signs, perhaps even private sites like garages or service areas.

If a vehicle or vehicles ahead of you was braking aggressively, you would be warned straight away - no need for CCTV operators to notice a tailback forming and intitiate road-sign warnings. If an emergency vehicle - or indeed anyone - was about to cross an intersection ahead of you against the lights, you'd be warned. The network would have a complete and accurate map of vehicles on the road, so that car navigation systems would be able to plot their way around the traffic with confidence.

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