A French police officer watching for road traffic infringements in Paris Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Bruno Waterfield and Matthew Day
9:50PM GMT 29 Jan 2014
The EU is developing a secret plan to give the police the power to control cars by switching the engine off remotely
The European Union is secretly developing a “remote stopping” device to be fitted to all cars that would allow the police to disable vehicles at the flick of a switch from a control room.
Confidential documents from a committee of senior EU police officers, who hold their meetings in secret, have set out a plan entitled “remote stopping vehicles” as part of wider law enforcement surveillance and tracking measures.
“The project will work on a technological solution that can be a ‘build in standard’ for all cars that enter the European market,” said a restricted document.
The devices, which could be in all new cars by the end of the decade, would be activated by a police officer working from a computer screen in a central headquarters.
Once enabled the engine of a car used by a fugitive or other suspect would stop, the supply of fuel would be cut and the ignition switched off.
The technology, scheduled for a six-year development timetable, is aimed at bringing dangerous high-speed car chases to an end and to make redundant current stopping techniques such as spiking a vehicle’s tyres.
The proposal was outlined as part of the “key objectives” for the “European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies”, or Enlets, a secretive off-shoot of a European “working party” aimed at enhancing police cooperation across the EU.
Statewatch, a watchdog monitoring police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU, have leaked the documents amid concerns the technology poses a serious threat to civil liberties
“We all know about the problems surrounding police stop and searches, so why will be these cars stopped in the first place,” said Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch.
“We also need to know if there is any evidence that this is a widespread problem. Let’s have some evidence that this is a problem, and then let’s have some guidelines on how this would be used.”
The remote stopping and other surveillance plans have been signed off by the EU’s Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security, known as Cosi, meaning that the project has the support of senior British Home Office civil servants and police officers.
Cosi, which also meets in secret, was set up by the Lisbon EU Treaty in 2010 to develop and implement what has emerged as a European internal security policy without the oversight of MPs in the House of Commons.
Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, attacked the plan for threatening civil liberties and for bypassing the parliament.
“The price we pay for surrendering our democratic sovereignty is that we are governed by an unaccountable secretive clique,” he said.
Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, described the measure as “incredible” and a “draconian imposition”.
“It is appalling they are even thinking of it,” he said. “People must protest against this attack on their liberty and vote against an EU big Brother state during the Euro election in May.”
In 2012, Enlets received a £484,000 grant from the European Commission for its declared mission to “support front line policing and the fight against serious and organised crime by gathering user requirements, scanning and raising awareness of new technology and best practices, benchmarking and giving advice”.
The six-year work programme for Enlets also includes improving automatic number plate recognition technology and intelligence sharing. Although the technology for police to stop a vehicle by remote control has still to be developed, Enlets argues the merits of developing such a system.
“Cars on the run can be dangerous for citizens,” said a document. “Criminal offenders will take risks to escape after a crime. In most cases the police are unable to chase the criminal due to a lack of efficient means to stop the vehicle safely.”
The introduction of stopping devices has raised questions of road safety. David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, warned that the technology could pose a danger to all road users.
“I would be fascinated to know what the state’s liability will be if they put these devices in all vehicles and one went off by accident whilst a car was doing 70mph on a motorway with a truck behind it resulting in loss of life,” he said.
“It is time legislators stopped believing technology is a form of magic and realised that is fallible, and those failures do real harm.”