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Originally published June 15 2015

New Range Rovers will send drivers' location data to government agents

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) It is being sold to consumers as just a harmless, yet imminently effective way to get roads fixed more quickly and efficiently, but privacy advocates are concerned – and rightly so.

According to The Next Web website, Jaguar Land Rover automaker is developing vehicle-borne technology that will automatically report the presence of potholes to government authorities. The website further reports that its cars will be able to identify any potholes encountered and then share the data in real time with road maintenance officials and other vehicles.

"The upcoming feature will help government agencies prioritize road repairs and enable drivers to avoid major potholes and broken manholes," The Next Web reports.

The car market has created sensors for its Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport models that create real-time profiles of the surface underneath the vehicles' wheels, then monitor changes in suspension height to create data about road conditions. The cars are then able to tag the location of potholes with GPS-based location information (which means vehicles are constantly being tracked).

"While this gives our customers a more comfortable ride, we think there is a huge opportunity to turn the information from these vehicle sensors into 'big data' and share it for the benefit of other road users," said Jaguar Land Rover's Global Connected Car Director Dr. Mike Bell. "This could help prevent billions of pounds of vehicle damage and make road repairs more effective."

Always the tracking data...

Right now, the technology is effective only when a driver actually drives over a pothole. But the company is developing ways to scan the road ahead of vehicles to detect potholes, "using a forward-facing stereo digital camera fitted on its Range Rover Evoque research vehicle," The Next Web reported.

"By monitoring the motion of the vehicle and changes in the height of the suspension, the car is able to continuously adjust the vehicle's suspension characteristics, giving passengers a more comfortable ride over uneven and damaged road surfaces," said Bell.

Local governments in the UK are already expressing an interest in the technology – even though they already gather a huge amount of citizen data as it is.

"As part of our 'Smart Cities' strategy, we will be investigating how Jaguar Land Rover's Pothole Alert system could supply us with data in real-time from thousands of connected cars right across our road network," Councilor Rachel Lancaster, Cabinet Member for Public Services at Coventry City Council, said. "This could give us a very accurate, minute-by-minute picture of damage to road surfaces, manholes and drains in real time.

"We already collect lots of data which we monitor very carefully ourselves but having this kind of extra information might allow us to further improve our maintenance programmes which would save the taxpayer money," she added [our emphasis].

The carmaker said the pothole detection technology could eventually assist in the development of autonomously driving vehicles.

Potential to abuse gathered GPS data

Civil libertarians and privacy organizations are disturbed by the new technology, which they say is a breach of "locational privacy."

"When individuals are moving about in public and private spaces, they do not expect to be tracked wherever they go," says the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which opposed blanket GPS tracking of individuals not involved in law enforcement investigations. "However, this expectation is being challenged as cell phones and other electronic devices now collect and store location data throughout the day."

The organization also noted that location-tracking technologies, which have essentially been mainstreamed in the last decade, have "significant implications for consumers" and their constitutional privacy rights.

"Over the last 10 years, law enforcement has stepped up its use of location tracking technologies, such as GPS (Global Positioning System) trackers and cell phones, to monitor the movements of individuals who may or may not be suspected of a crime," EPIC noted, adding that as of March 2013, there were 31 GPS satellites in the U.S. GPS satellite constellation.

Continual tracking without probable cause or a search warrant, even in the electronic age, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, says the organization.

Also, other critics note that even while programs like the Range Rover pothole-tracking initiative appear to be relatively innocuous, the kind of information gathered could be exploited or abused if hacked – which happens frequently. Plus, they add, such technology could eventually be adopted by all carmakers, leaving drivers with no way to opt out.


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