Be afraid, be very afraid

Nov 3rd, 2013 | By | Category: International

Sud-Ouest, the French regional newspaper, reports that between 15,000 and 30,000 demonstrators gathered in the Breton town of Quimper to protest against the “eco-taxe”, leaders wore the red bonnet of the French revolution. The tax is  per kilometre charge on Heavy Goods Vehicles and is levied for travel on some 15,000 kilometres of French roads. All lorries, regardless of nationality, travelling through France, must have a GPS tracking system to facilitate the charging.

The idea is not new. Germany has been tolling HGVs through satellite tracking since 2005; that same year the British government proposed the tolling of all vehicles through use of the GPS system.  The suggestion was that road taxes and fuel duties would be replaced by a straightforward tolling system; Alistair Darling, the then transport secretary even tried to suggest that it was for people’s own good, that the country would descend into gridlock unless such proposals were implemented.

If the French government finds its “eco-taxe” an easy source of revenue, it is hard to imagine that it will not be expanded, that other classes of vehicles will not be included and that other European countries will not enthusiastically implement such schemes. It will, of course, be presented as being for our benefit, that ecological and traffic pressures are such taht we must be charged money to save us from ourselves.

But there are more serious issues raised; no government will be able to resist the temptation to use the data for various purposes. If you are at point A at 7.00 and at point B at 7.10 and the distance is six miles through a 30 mph zone, well, you have been speeding. If a crime is committed at point C when you are passing down the street, well, you must be considered as a suspect. If your car regularly appears in the car park of the local pub and then moves to the home address at around 11 pm, then the local police will be waiting for you one evening. Data could have great commercial value, even being sold to divorce lawyers. ‘Mr. Smith, why did you say you were at the office when traffic records clearly show that your car was parked outside number 39 Seedy Street?’

Perhaps the data would be used for catching the guilty, and the innocent need have no fear if they have nothing to hide. But how soon would it be before the security services decided that anyone who disagreed with them would automatically be guilty? How soon would it be before political activists found that their every move was being recorded if they moved around by car? How soon would it be before they had no freedom come and go?

An “eco-taxe” could very quickly move from being a source of revenue to being a subtle, or not so subtle, form of control. Be afraid.

Biarritz traffic jam

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  1. Ian, It’s not only when you’re travelling by car that you need to be afraid. The Dublin web summit was on last week and I was reading an article in the info praising a new software which is being marketed to retail business owners. Basically it tracks a person as they enter a store, using blue tooth technology on a persons mobile phone, it tells the retailer how long that person stays in the store and which departments/aisles they are browsing in. If a person picks up a product and then puts it down again, a text will automatically be generated to that customer telling them about offers on that product.
    I can’t remember the name of the software, but I don’t like the sound of it at all, it’s bad enough that by using a Clubcard, Tesco and the likes already have a ‘profile’ of me on file, but this is a step too far.

  2. I suppose switching the phone off would fox them. I know I have suggested before to people that they should swap Tesco cards with friends from time to time and use the other person’s card before swapping back – it breaks the pattern, or to use the card when buying things for other people.

  3. Agreed

    Another step into a not very appealing future

  4. I think there is much that can be done to sabotage such measures – not in terms of vehicle tags, perhaps, but in terms of the passive co-operation we offer to those who would monitor and control us.

  5. Heartening to see that people are not all automatically going quietly into the surveillance blizzard.
    I like the sneaky idea of loyalty card swapping.

    By the way, if you have any friends who use iTunes – especially in the North or across the water – would you mention this website to them – – it’s about a little boy called Fynnjan who I know and am helping. He has Aspergers. Has written a song called The Spirit of Christmas. Trying to get to Christmas no1. Raising funds for National Autistic Society and Nordoff Robbins music therapy. All very lovely.

    P / BWT

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