BMW X3 and 5-Series police vehiclesEnlarge Photo
Not the longest, nor the most action-packed, the Mustang versus Charger car chase in the movie Bullitt is generally regarded as one of the best of all time. It wouldn't have been so great, however, were it set in an Orwellian future Europe where police could shut down cars remotely, eliminating the need to chase altogether.
Leaked plans from the European Union reveal that police could be provided with devices allowing them to shut down other vehicles remotely. Not just from a squad car, but completely remotely, from a control room somewhere overseeing the streets via closed-circuit television cameras.
According to the document, entitled "Remote Stopping Vehicles" (via the BBC), the project will "work on a technological solution that can be a 'build in standard' for all cars that enter the European market." That's right--by the end of the decade, all new vehicles in Europe could be fitted with a device allowing police to simply power down the car in certain scenarios.
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The idea is to eliminate the need for costly and dangerous pursuit situations--something generally discouraged in European forces, for the danger it poses to the general public due to their high speeds and unpredictable nature. From this perspective, it's undoubtedly a positive thing--but it's hard not to imagine a depressing Minority Report-style future where your car can be disabled indiscriminately by some unseen force within the police. Or worse, hacked by a third party to steal your car.
It's these sort of concerns that led civil liberties campaign group Statewatch to leak details of the report. "We all know about the problems surrounding police stop and searches", said Statewatch director Tony Bunyan to The Telegraph. The group says it needs to know whether the risk of pursuits is a widespread problem, and enough to justify a remote-stop system being used.
Statewatch is asking for guidelines on how the system might be used. The potential misuse of such a system and the draconian nature by which it might be enforced certainly has far greater consequences than the loss of the classic movie car chase...