National's road charging proposals "wide open to abuse"

The NZ National Party’s proposed user-pays scheme for road users will almost inevitably become a state-controlled mass vehicle surveillance system, says the car review website

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is also the former editor of a computer magazine, says any system that could reliably charge all vehicle owners for the distance travelled would almost certainly be based on satellite information.

“This is a bureaucrat’s dream. The government simply needs to pass a law requiring that each vehicle is fitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS). This system would then feed your vehicle’s current location to a computer. The computer would then work out how far you’ve travelled and deduct Road User Charges from your bank account.”

“Inevitably, a system of this kind would also become widely used by law enforcement agencies. Doubtless, these agencies would also love having the ability to switch off vehicles without the driver being able to do anything about it.

“Similar systems are already widely used by car dealers in the USA to track vehicles on hire purchase. If the customer stops paying for the hire purchase, the dealer simply uses a remote control to switch off the vehicle, leaving the owner stranded at the side of the road.”

“However, such as system could be easily abused. For example, if a group of known protesters were on their way to a demonstration, the government could simply switch their cars off remotely, so the protesters couldn’t turn up at the event.”

Matthew-Wilson adds:

“This is not some science fiction scenario, this is here and now technology. And, similar technology is already being abused here and now. In case you don’t know, your smartphone is probably tracking your every move and unscrupulous companies are exploiting the data they gather about you. You can solve this problem by leaving your smartphone behind, but you can’t escape from a GPS-based government vehicle tracking system. Such a system will gradually increase the level of surveillance to the point where every single vehicle journey you make is carefully tracked.“

“I, for one, am alarmed at this potential level of surveillance.”

Matthew-Wilson adds that a centralised surveillance system of this kind is also exceedingly vulnerable to hacking and deliberate disruption by foreign powers.

“While satellite technology is currently reliable, GPS satellites will be among the first targets in any international conflict. The government’s eyes in the sky could suddenly be out of action without notice, along with the road user charging system that relies on these satellites.”