A European database of vehicle documentation, giving police access to driver and vehicle data from multiple European countries, goes live today. The Traffic Documentation System (TDS) is currently subscribed to by the UK, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and has been developed by Dutch National Traffic Police on behalf of the European Traffic Police Network, TISPOL, with EU funding. Five more countries are due to join shortly.
It will, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) tells us, be "a valuable tool in the fight across Europe against those involved in all forms of illegal activity including terrorism, smuggling and forgery." Which might strike you as a little bit of mission creep for an organisation whose purpose "is to co-ordinate on a Europe-wide scale different national traffic enforcement actions" (European Commission statement). TISPOL's previous greatest hits over a lifespan of around five years include Europe-wide swoops on drink-driving, heavy goods vehicle safety, and speeding. If there is an obvious benefit to co-ordinating such operations across Europe as opposed to just doing it as part of the normal duty roster it eludes The Register, and it does rather make TISPOL's funding so far look like a thunderous waste of money. But TDS does have an obvious purpose in that it aids the nicking of foreigners or people pretending to be foreigners, which is a chore for your honest enforcer throughout Europe.
But will it? ACPO says it has been field tested in North East London (which seems to get all the good stuff early) and at the Channel Tunnel, but tells us that the first five countries "have provided documents for inclusion on the database". This tends to suggest that the documents may not yet have been included in their entirety, and the UK's police forces, and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) have been failing spectacularly to get their own data online for some years now (March for MoT centres, unless it's slipped again, and the police IMPACT system is receding towards the horizon). Given this, and the likelihood that the situation elsewhere in Europe will be similar, it's extremely doubtful that a fully live, all-singing all-dancing, all-seeing system can be achieved for quite a few years. According to UK TISPOL rep Adam Briggs, TDS is also intended to "help ensure anyone transporting livestock, waste and other goods across Europe is properly licensed and their vehicles and loads are safe", so that's another couple of classes of database that are going to have to go into the system too.
Nor is the roadside ceuf with an urgent appointment with the canteen likely to be enamoured of the current access mechanism. The database will be available to police via the Internet, so access will depend on whether or not the relevant national force has simple mobile Internet access, or the data can be distributed on CD. In both cases the system will be dependent on how effectively the data is kept up to date, with this being particularly unlikely with the CD version. Widespread leakage of extensive pan-European vehicle data can also surely be predicted, if we're proposing to stick the lot on CDs and dish them out to half the traffic cops in Europe.
But nevertheless, it's a step towards pan-European road policing, and there are others afoot, including VERA2/eNFORCE (Video Enforcement for Road Authorities 2), a system for enforcing traffic offence penalties in the country of the vehicle's registration, and plans for the pan-European driving licence, RFID perhaps included. And then there's the satellite network. Happy journeys... ®