Victoria Police is hoping a trial that will allow officers to directly track cars via GPS will reduce vehicle thefts across the state, but an expert is warning the system could have significant implications for privacy if it becomes mandatory.
- Police hoping trial will help officers deal with car thefts
- Expert concerns system may deliver geodata directly to police
- Nearly 16,000 cars stolen in Victoria last year
The trial, which starts in September, will see 1,000 cars fitted with GPS tracking devices that have the ability to pinpoint vehicles to within a few metres.
Drivers getting their cars serviced at a dealership will be asked if they want to take part in the trial before a GPS tracking device is installed into their vehicle.
Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill said drivers would be able to activate the tracking device with a mobile phone.
“Victoria Police, from the command centre, will start tracking it [the stolen car] and then do the intervention, when it is safe to do so,” he said.
“We would not be encouraging the owners of those vehicles to start tracking it themselves — there’s obviously inherent risks with that.”
Car thefts in Victoria have fallen over the last six months, but nearly 16,000 vehicles were stolen in the past year.
Assistant Commissioner Hill said the tracking devices could help police with other crimes, because many offenders used stolen cars.
“The serious crimes that we see in this state, whether it be drive-by shootings, armed robberies or commercial burglaries, on the large majority of occasions there is always a stolen vehicle involved and that enables the crime,” he said.
Concerns about hacking, data theft
Dr Jake Goldenfein, who researches privacy, surveillance and the law at Swinburne University, said he was sceptical the system would be used only to address vehicle theft.
“Rather than police having to make requests for this data from third parties, this system might deliver geodata directly to police,” he said.
“This could be useful for law enforcement, as geolocation data is excluded from Australia’s mandatory data retention scheme.
“I think it would be very naïve to believe the introduction of this system, and the possibility of it becoming mandatory, is purely to address vehicle theft.”
Criminals might devise a way to circumvent the device, he added.
National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council executive director Ray Carroll said he supported the trial, and was not overly concerned about potential hacking or data theft.
“It’s the start of a game changer in vehicle theft,” he said.
“Technology of this type is coming. But most importantly what we need to do is get the advantage of that technology by integrating it with police systems.
“These sort of cyber risks exist in every aspects of our lives these days, but part of the due diligence we undertake with the supplier is the have the systems in place to limit it the best they can.”