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I want to remotely disable Londoners' cars, says Met's top cop

Psst, chief. You've probably not heard of backdoors – this is a seriously bad idea

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe wants the capital's cops to be able to remotely disable people's cars, he told the London Assembly's police and crime committee today.

Hogan-Howe made the comments as part of a wider discussion between police and elected assembly members on police tactics for stopping cars being driven by criminals.

Asked by UKIP London Assembly member Peter Whittle about the potential for drones to be used in chasing car crooks making a high-speed getaway, Hogan-Howe said:

My ideal scenario would be that we'd have a device that slowed down the car in front. If there was a way of intervening in the electronic management of the car – it may sound far-fetched but these things can be developed and, of course, now cars have got more electronic brains, so that for me that would be a great opportunity to safely slow down the vehicle in front. I can't say that's there at the moment.

The chief of London's police added, when asked if this sort of technology is already under development: “I couldn't promise you. I'm not a technician – you said, 'what would help', that would help. The ideal is to stop the driver getting in the vehicle.”

Earlier in the session, a discussion arose about using aerial drones to track car-borne crooks. Deputy commissioner Craig Mackey, of the Met, said: “There's clearly a potential to use them in a scenario like this [but] it's never been proven or tested in that sort of scenario, in a crowded space with a moving vehicle.”

Hogan-Howe chimed in, explaining why the Met does not – currently – use airborne drones: “The problem with the drones is that you've got three broad types. You've got military style, Predators, we're not going to use those. Very small ones – the problem with those is they don't fly fast and don't stay in the air long, so in terms of vehicle pursuits that's a bit of a challenge but they have other benefits.”

The commissioner continued: “The medium size ones, in a built up area here, when you've got overflying [of domestic buildings], the CAA aren't very keen on medium sized drones working that would be quick enough and would stay in the air long enough to get involved in pursuit. So at the moment drones have some part to play but not a very big one.”

The spectre of police using backdoors, potentially even state-mandated backdoors, to interfere with technologies such as driverless cars will worry many. Even though the police would (naturally) argue that such use could be controlled and regulated, the mere existence of a means to remotely take control of, or disable, a car would make it hugely attractive to black hat hackers and other criminals.

Given that police cars are normal models fitted with extra radio and communications gear, the potential even exists for car-borking backdoors to be turned against the police and neutralise cops responding to an incident. Perhaps we'll see a return to the Bow Street Runners of old? ®


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