Technology that allows self-driving cars to be remotely controlled by police and other law enforcement agencies is being considered, according to a recent report. Such measures could allow police to move vehicles and stop them through an inbuilt kill switch, and identify occupants and location history.
The RAND report, commissioned by the US National Institute of Justice, suggests that backdoors could be built into the software of self-driving cars to allow for remote control access. Before these measures are introduced, however, the report recognises that "risk to the public's civil rights, privacy rights, and security" need to be taken into consideration.
"Imagine a law enforcement officer interacting with a vehicle that has sensors connected to the internet," the report states. "With the appropriate judicial clearances, an officer could ask the vehicle to identify its occupants and location histories.
"Or, if the vehicle is unmanned but capable of autonomous movement and in an undesirable location (for example, parked illegally or in the immediate vicinity of an emergency), an officer could direct the vehicle to move to a new location."
The ability to identify a vehicle's occupants and assess their criminal record remotely may be beneficial to law enforcement agencies, however it is likely to face opposition from privacy advocates. Concerns over the technology behind driverless cars were raised recently when security experts were able to hack in to various autonomous vehicles - a vulnerability that could potentially be exploited even further if backdoors were built in to the software.
A 2014 report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) suggested that the high level of computer technology could be manipulated in such a way so as to bring entire cities to a standstill, or even be abused by terrorists.
"If we have the hacker community start to target vehicles in Central London we could imagine a fair amount of chaos on the roads," said Hugh Boyes, a cyber-security expert at the IET. "Terrorism is a real risk. So cyber-security of autonomous vehicles will be critical. And we're going to have to consider having black boxes in vehicles in the event of an accident."