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Autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles are on the horizon. That technology will have the capacity to take control of vehicles away from drivers. Currently in the advanced stage of trials, which seem rather benign; nevertheless, the impact of this technology will be profound.

Touted as a Road safety initiative, the cost is going to be horrendous and will end up being a cost-benefit tragedy. The G-Tag will be a fraction of the cost and a motorist may only need to spend less than $150 to upgrade their current vehicle as opposed to many thousands for autonomous upgrades, if they are at all possible, forcing people to upgrade their vehicles. Their current vehicle will be valued based on recoverable scrap value.

As annoying as that might be, the bigger problem is that an initiative that transmits or receives data creates a risk of being compromised and used for illicit purposes.

As anticipated, the proposal of a G-Tag has faced a mixed reaction. Although supported by most, several people have expressed unease about the privacy aspect of the proposal, ironically a view we share.

We are cognisant that the development of this initiative will take some work, not only the development of the program’s infrastructure but also the management of the Privacy issue.

The key to privacy issues is to restrict the use of data to strictly defined purposes.

The G-Tag takes on a new priority of late, given the alleged staffing issues of Victoria Police. Using Police resources more efficiently becomes a very high priority.

Technology can reduce risks to Police as well as increase efficiency.

People being better informed will see the advantages of a properly managed G-Tag system far outweigh the risks.

To bring perspective to the privacy issue, we must look back to 1981 when Melbourne hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the first international meeting of this type in Australia.

Initially, over twenty (20) CCTV cameras were installed and monitored by the Police; terrorism was a very real threat at that time.

After the event, and based on the issue of privacy, all but five (5) cameras were removed, and the control of the cameras was moved from the Police to Melbourne City Council to appease objections.

Currently, there are well over twelve (12) thousand in the City of Melbourne, and that is not counting cameras privately commercially operated. These cameras generally operate with no accountability for what is done with the data collected. Is this a matter of ignorance or something else entirely?

As with CCTV Cameras, the operation of the G-Tag has no adverse effect on privacy per se; the raw data is benign, the issue is how the data accumulated is used.

The G-Tag does not take pictures but is designed to locate and monitor target vehicles. Showing their location on maps gives the direction of travel and previous travel for a predetermined period.  Police would have the capacity to shut the vehicle down if it posed a threat to the community.

Logically, stolen vehicles could be located when they were reported, increasing the chances of recovering the vehicle immediately and perhaps catching the perpetrator.

Using this system to protect the community from random attacks using vehicles could be minimised.

The very recent murder of criminal heavyweight Gavin ‘Capable’ Preston as he sat having breakfast involved no less than three cars used by the assailants and possibly more.  At least two of them were reported to Police prior to the hit.
A G-Tag system operating on a relevant algorithm could have identified a pattern, of stolen car locations and given police a heads-up, something was happening.
Additionally, the perpetrators would have an uncomfortable shock returning to their planned getaway car to find it is immobilised.
We should be very concerned over this killing as the chances of a criminal War is very real, it was only good luck that an innocent patron of the café was not killed or maimed.

To protect privacy, every vehicle that is tagged or prompts a response, irrespective of the nature of the vehicle’s behaviour, must be recorded with the justification included for any future reference.

The use of cameras and other monitoring tools has become widespread, albeit with minimal impact on privacy. It is essential to establish strict regulations around data management to mitigate any negative consequences and promote transparency. This will instil trust among the public that the system is acting in its best interest, will not cause harm, and is accountable for its actions.

The real harm of these technologies is not the action of collecting data so much, but how that data is used and how it is stored and retrieved. Essentially, encryption of the data will protect it from Hackers and misuse or other unauthorised access for nefarious reasons.

Cameras have come a long way and are a part of life.

But cameras are not the only intrusion that we have accepted.

Anybody who,

  • Owns a computer.
  • Shops at a Supermarket.
  • A car
    • Owns, leases or hires.
    • Uses freeways, tollways or major highways.
    • Parks in a major shopping mall.
    • Uses a commercial car park.
    • Insures or registers a car.
  • Uses a card, either loyalty, credit, or other card functions.
  • Has a bank account.
  • Uses medical services.
    • Has Private Health Insurance
    • Has Medicare
    • Any social service interaction.
    • Employment
      • Union Membership.
      • Payee Taxation
    • Has a passport
    • Travels on public transport
    • Any interaction with the Tax Office
    • Interacts with Local Governments
    • Uses services utilities.
    • Attends any educational institutions.
    • Plays sport.
    • Belongs to any social or sporting club.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows that just living in a modern society comes with some privacy baggage.

What is important to realise is that, by and large, most of the data collected is benign, and it is largely unregulated, but the collection of this data is not the issue; it is the use of the data that is where things can come undone.

In the design and development of the G-Tag system, as much care must be applied to protecting privacy as goes into designing the operations.

The G-Tag is capable of monitoring any vehicle on our roads, and that is what causes some angst, but your individual privacy is assured by the following safeguards.

  • There are over five million vehicles in Victoria, so the best system could only track targeted vehicles, so the average motorist has nothing to fear.
  • Vehicle tracking must have an expiry date, and the tracking justification must be retained securely.
  • The unauthorised release of data collected by the system needs to be a criminal offence.
  • A vehicle driver, either a missing person or an overdue traveller, would, in many cases, use the G-Tag system. Police can safely intercept them to check their welfare. It would be up to the driver whether their details are passed to those who made the original report. This will avoid obvious misuse of the system.
  • Only sworn Police can operate the system or access data. (Police are the most accountable and suitable for the task).
  • All data must be encrypted to avoid hacking.
  • An independent Board including Police executives, Government representatives and an equal number of non-aligned members of the public to provide a monitoring and evaluation function.

If, however, you own or drive a car that is ten years old or younger, the chances are that you are already being monitored by the manufacturer, and the Limp Home Mode function or the capacity to shut a vehicle down already exists in vast numbers of the Victorian fleet.

The question posed is, would you rather be covered by a transparent authorised function in Victoria or the unregulated actions of overseas manufacturers and perhaps dealerships?

Today, most transport fleet operators, hire car firms, and many Government departments and authorities install tracking devices in their vehicles, often unbeknown to the driver.

Although, that data is managed in Australia, how do you feel about using a car that transmits unregulated data to another country? Probably not an issue with friendly countries, but what of the countries that are not?

It raises concerns for national security that a foreign power could potentially track and shut down large portions of the vehicle fleet or individually targeted vehicles in the country as an act of aggression or terrorism.

With all the risks we are exposed to, the G-Tag proposal is somewhat innocuous.