Privacy concerns of automated emergency calls

Telematics and other tracking systems have always given people the willies when it comes to personal privacy and a new safety feature that is being suggested by EU regulators is brewing up a storm once again. The EU parliament has proposed that all cars should come fitted with the ability to detect an accident and immediately contact the emergency services in the case of a serious one. Understandably, this has some people worried about being tracked.

The system being proposed is called eCall and would connect the vehicle’s audio system with that of an emergency services over a public mobile communications network that would be triggered immediately in the case of an accident. Sensors in the car designed to detect impacts and damage, would be analysed instantaneously to decide if the accident is serious enough to warrant attention from the emergency services.

However the system could also be triggered manually if someone needed immediate assistance without getting into a dangerous accident.

The EU proposition was to have this system installed as a mandatory piece of equipment in all vehicles beginning in March 2018. It was backed by number of MEPs. Others however have shown concern, suggesting that a system that is technically tracking every vehicle on the roads, could quite easily be abused.


Suggestions included criminals making sure people are far from their homes so that they can be safely burgled, while others pointed out the intelligence agencies of the world hijacking the data for invasive anti-terror reasons.

However even these privacy advocates were mostly silenced after a debate hashed out new rules for the eCall system.

“As a public service, eCall will be free of charge for all citizens, whatever car they drive and whatever its purchase price. The new rules will ensure that eCall works only as a safety device. It will be illegal to use it to track a driver’s movements or to misuse location data, which must be sent only to the emergency services,” said MEP Olga Sehnalova, rapporteur on the issue (via PCWorld).

The MEPs also made sure that the eCall device would be dormant unless triggered by an accident or by the driver themselves, that way there was no data being collected until that point in time. It also made it entirely illegal for the data to be transferred to a third party without explicit consent from the car’s owner. Manufacturers would also need to ensure that any data collected was permanently deleted after the fact.

Some parties, specifically the Greens, have still opposed the system, suggesting it could still be abused, but the proposal by the Internal Market Committee was approved 30-1, so it is likely that manufacturers will begin implementing the eCall system in their vehicles by sometime in late 2017, with plans to have it implemented across the board by 2018.

What do you guys think of the eCall feature? Is it something you’d like to see, or will it put drivers’ privacy at risk?

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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