Government of India mandates installation of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on the medium and heavy motor vehicles through the proposed rule 138A of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, according to Gazette of India.
The filing states that medium and heavy vehicles manufactured on or six months after the date of the final notification will be fitted with RFID tags for the purpose of Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) or any other application mentioned by the Central Government. There is no clear information on the ways in which the government intends to use the RFID tags installed.
Issues: This mandate could lead to several issues which have not been addressed by the government, so far:
- According to a Centre for Internet & Society report, the section 110 of the Motor Vehicles Act (MV Act), 1988, presently does not allow the government to create rules in respect to RFID tags. So it appears that there is technically no legal grounds for the RFID tag mandate by the government.
- This mandate would also mean that the government could essentially track any vehicle at any point of time with RFID tag readers without the consent of the vehicle owner. This could further hit our privacy, especially in the light of the Central Monitoring System (CMS) that is to be installed in 10 circles out of 22 circles in the country by the end of this year. The government has not been very clear about what the CMS would include and what its implications could be, either. It only seems to be furthering this agenda even with respect to RFID tagging of motor vehicles.
- According to the recommendations given in the Planning Commission’s Report of Group of Experts on Privacy - “A data controller shall give individuals choices (opt-in/opt-out) with regard to providing their personal information, and take individual consent only after providing notice of its information practices. Only after consent has been taken will the data controller collect, process, use, or disclose such information to third parties, except in the case of authorized agencies. The data subject shall, at any time while availing the services or otherwise, also have an option to withdraw his/her consent given earlier to the data controller. In such cases the data controller shall have the option not to provide goods or services for which the said information was sought if such information is necessary for providing the goods or services.”
Mandating RFID tags on motor vehicles would mean that government will not be taking the recommended consent from vehicle owners before installing RFID tags.
- The report also further states that under exceptional cases, where it is not possible to provide the service with choice and consent, then it should not be required. This indicates that the government is mandating RFID tags on all vehicles without consent so that they may be used during exceptional cases or circumstances which again have not been defined.
- There is no way for us to know if this system is being abused and there is also no way to protect ourselves from such an abuse or breach of privacy since the government is yet to enact a privacy law.
Introduction of GPS tracking in motor vehicles: In September 2012, the government had also announced its plans to install GPS-based speed limiting device on motor vehicle, according to an IndiaToday report. This system would be able to constantly track the vehicle’s position and speed. If the driver tries to exceed the legal speed limit, the inbuilt systems would cut the fuel to the engine and slow the vehicle to a speed within legal limits. The report states that the government had been testing the device in Delhi and Gurgaon.
Unlike RFID tagging, GPS tracking would be mean that the government will be able to track the precise location of a person at any point of time. We believe that although the pretext of introducing GPS is road safety and rightly so, it is not fully clear if the GPS system will only be used for safety purposes.
Services using RFID tags and GPS: What’s also interesting is that the government has already begun launching services around RFID tagging and GPS tracking of vehicles. In April 2013, an Interoperable Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) technology based Electronic Tolling System had been launched at the Charoti Toll Plaza, Dahanu in Thane District, Maharashtra. The Toll Plazas between Mumbai – Vadodara on NH-8 are covered by interoperable RFID tolling system.
GPS tracking of public transport – DTC buses has also been introduced in Delhi. In September 2012, the Delhi High Court had ordered auto rickshaws to install GPS. We believe that while citizens would benefit from these services and safety measures, it is also necessary to put safety measures in place to safeguard citizens from potential misuse of such technologies before its too late.