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eCall: Privacy and Data Protection Implications

Posted in EU Data Protection

From April 1, 2018, all new cars in the European Union (EU) must be equipped with eCall technology.

What is eCall?

eCall is a service designed to provide quick emergency response. In the event of a serious accident, the in-vehicle eCall system automatically communicates to the emergency services; the vehicle’s exact location; the time of incident; and the direction of travel (most important on motorways), even if the driver is unconscious or unable to make a phone call. An eCall can also be triggered manually by pushing a button in the car, for example, by a witness of a serious accident.

How does eCall work?

When activated, the eCall system establishes a voice connection directly with the relevant national or local governmental Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).

The eCall device fitted in the car automatically sends a ‘Minimum Set of Data’ (MSD) to the PSAP in the event of an emergency. The MSD will include the exact location of the crash site, the triggering mode (automatic or manual), the vehicle identification number and current and previous positions.

Who governs eCall?

The eCall system is governed by EU regulations. The European Commission has also published various detailed administrative and technical requirements that eCall technology and systems must comply with.

The legislation in place leaves room for third party service supported eCall systems (TPS) to co-exist with the mandatory public eCall system. This creates extensive opportunities for third party service providers in the private sector to provide not only the eCall emergency services but also a plethora of private value added technology-based services.

What are the privacy and data protection concerns?

The introduction of eCall systems raise obvious concerns in relation to privacy and data protection, in particular misuse of data, surveillance, constant tracking, etc. To deal with such concerns, in addition to complying with general data protection regulation laws, including the principle of privacy by design, EU’s eCall regulations require manufacturers and service providers to comply with detailed and prescriptive technical rules and test procedures on personal data processing, including implementation of appropriate safeguards.