“Under EU plans, every new car sold in UK will have a ‘black box’ device Gadget contains a phone-like SIM card which tracks drivers’ movements Designed to help emergency services find vehicles in the event of crash Government believes the device will add at least £100 to the cost of cars Officials also fear it could be used by police to monitor motorists’ moves But ministers admit they are powerless to stop Big Brother technology All new car models will have to include ‘eCall’ device from October 2015” Daily Mail
This is the thin end of a very intrusive wedge. Even those with cars without the device fitted – only vehicles produced or sold before October 2015 – will feel its force because the insurance industry will increase premiums substantially, perhaps grossly, for cars without the system. It is reasonable to believe that within a few years ecall will have become to all intents and purposes compulsory.
The system will allow the monitoring of a person’s driving habits, how often they brake, the severity of braking, speed and so on and possibly the maintenance of the vehicle. Drive in a way which the insurer considers dangerous and your premiums will go up or your insurance be withdrawn. Consider how vital a vehicle is to millions of people simply to enable them to live normal lives –outside the larger British cities public transport is a joke - and how many jobs are dependent upon the possession of a driving licence. Allowing insurers to make judgements based individuals not on making or not making insurance claims made by an individual or general markers such as the age of the person is to place into their hands a massive power over individual lives.
If Insurers can monitor how we drive because technology allows them to you can bet your life that other areas of life with follow that example. You want some form of personal insurance – accident, life, medical – the insurers may start offering highly preferential rates to those willing to wear a device to monitor their biological functions as these are affected by things such as drinking, smoking, eating and exercising . Indulge too much when it comes to drink or take too little exercise and your premiums will rise or your insurance be removed. Such monitoring could also have effect of identifying diseases which could produce the same result. Perhaps the insurers will require any children you have to be similarly monitored.
You want to insure your house? Insurers could insist that monitors are fitted to record how you live, whether you smoke, whether you leave on taps or electrical and gas devices when you should not. Perhaps insurers will insist on CCTV in every room especially if you have children. Or how about insurers monitoring how many people visit you and how they behave? You are given to throwing boisterous parties? Up goes your premium or away goes your insurance.
Enjoy pets and want to insure against vet’s bills? An insurer may require you to fit your animal with monitors to check their health, weight, diet and exercise. Insurers could even insist on monitors in your house to see how the pet lives.
How about employers? They need heavyweight insurance for their premises, people, equipment and damage to people and property not working for or belonging to the employer. Are they to be subject to a general monitoring of their premises, equipment, staff and customers? You can bet they will be.
Schools, hospitals and care homes would provide a particularly fertile ground for insurers. Not only would these enterprises have all the surveillance burdens of employers generally, insurers would probably ask for a much more intrusive surveillance regime. This would be because of the vast potential for things to go wrong and the likelihood of claims and court actions arising, for these are areas of employment to which the law has long been no stranger, a problem amplified since the 1990s by the introduction of “No Win, No Fee” practices into English law.
There are some insurances which are not absolutely necessary, but most insurances have the potential to become in practice obligatory. If you own a house you must have it insured if you have a mortgage and frankly anyone who did not insure their house even if it is unencumbered by a mortgage would be mad. The same applies to home contents. Vehicle insurance is legally required. If you travel abroad, travel insurance is a must and outside the European Economic Area (EEA) so is medical insurance. Indeed, even within the EEA, medical care can be problematic for those in a country other than their own. The huge sums vets charge these days make owning a pet dog or cat a risky proposition without insurance.
There would also be a general reduction in choice for those insurances which really are option such as private medical insurance. Those will of course be subject to whatever surveillance the insurer decides is needed. It is not essential that a person have private medical insurance but it does leave everyone with the Hobson’s choice of the NHS if private medical insurance comes with a hefty moral price tag in the form of gross invasion of privacy.
The insurances which an employer must have will frequently force an individual to submit to the surveillance if they want the job. This is because employers will understandably mostly go for the cheapest insurance. In this scenario, the cheapest insurance will be the one with the greatest surveillance. In time there would almost certainly be few employers not requiring such surveillance.
Apart from gross invasion of privacy which surveillance for insurance purposes could involve, there is also the danger of the data being misused: for commercial reasons, by the state , by criminals or simply by malicious and unscrupulous individuals.
Prospective employers could insist on seeing data collected by previous employers or even the whole life data collected on an individual. Employers could use data collected on their employees to regulate their lives, for example, by intervening if an employee is found to be drinking regularly or eating unhealthy food. This interference in private lives could be driven not just by the employer’s wishes, but also by the insurance companies asking for higher premiums from employers if the data they collect shows some employees are more likely to be sick or injured .
Data collected, whether by an employer’s insurer or an insurer employed by an individual, could be sold, legally or illegally, and used to effectively blacklist people, both from jobs and from obtaining all forms of credit, everything from credit cards to mortgages.
The potential for state misbehaviour would be next to unlimited because they could both use actual data collected from an individual to look for any information which could be used to put pressure on the individual or to simply harass them. The state could also arrange to have false insurance data about someone put into the public fold to harass and discredit them.
Criminals could use such data to blackmail people or simply disrupt their lives at the behest of a client. Finally, there is the potential for personal revenge. An aggrieved individual with access to the highly intimate data collected by insurers could use it to cause considerable trouble for someone against whom they had an animus
In principle, this is an issue which government can stop in its tracks if they have the will. All they would need to do is pass a law which prevents insurers from using such surveillance strategies. I say in principle because in the case of the black box in the car the British government’s hands are tied by the EU’s majority voted insistence that all cars will have such equipment fitted in the near future. ( The answer to that particular problem is to leave the EU). But the British Government is free to legislate to ban all the other insurance related possibilities for hyper-surveillance.
The scenarios I have outlined may seem far fetched, but who would have believed even a few years ago that a black box in a car would become a legal requirement , a piece of technology which will not merely log your driving and probably car maintenance habits , but where your car (and consequently you) are for most of the time. All of the equipment needed to intrude into the life of the individual as I have described already exists: cameras, audio recorders, health monitors, technology monitors. Moreover, technology is advancing at a frightening pace and it is a certainty that ever more efficient methods to keep people under surveillance will be coming along. It is also only too likely that the EU will try to extend its surveillance plans beyond the black box in cars. Nor can we have any confidence that out own government will not go down the same controlling route when left to their own devices. There are plenty of people amongst the British elite who love nothing more than to interfere minutely with other people”s lives.
There will also be an element of voluntary servitude. Many people already willingly wear the technology which allows them to monitor heart rate, the number of steps taken in the day and blood pressure and so on. Such personal monitors will become every more all encompassing to allow, for example, diet in detail. Many people are happy to have CCTV not only in public spaces but in and around their homes. Children are routinely kept under surveillance at a distance by their parents through smart phones and tablets.
All of this is preparing the ground for insurers ( and employers, commercial firms and governments) to demand that people wear monitors and carry technology which allows a person’s movements to be tracked.
The stark, hideously unpalatable truth for anyone who cares for their freedom is that surveillance is one of those practices which has no natural limit. There is literally no area of insurance where increased surveillance would not appeal to an insurer for the simply reason they would believe they were minimising risk. There is literally no limit to what surveillance powers the state unhindered will take to itself on the spurious grounds that it is for the protection of the country. We need to stamp on this now or we shall wake up in ten years or so and find ourselves in a surveillance society even more comprehensive than that envisaged by Orwell in 1984. Stopping insurers from being grossly intrusive would be a good start.