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Can a kill switch prevent terrorist attacks like the ones in Berlin and Nice?

MAN TGS truck
Big cities like New York City and Moscow blocked roads with large trucks to prevent a Berlin-style terrorist attack on New Year’s Eve. The British government is responding differently to the threat, and it has allegedly hired a small team of scientists to secretly develop a remote kill switch capable of stopping a big rig in its tracks.

The project is called Restore, a name that stands for REmote STOpping of Road Engines, according to British newspaper The Daily Mail. Its aim is to develop a technology that would allow authorities to remotely disable large trucks and vehicles carrying hazardous material if they’ve been hijacked or if they’re being used in a terrorist attack like the ones that recently rocked Berlin and Nice. A senior official who wished to remain anonymous explained the Restore technology will also make vehicles more difficult to steal even if terrorism isn’t the thief’s main motivation.

Remotely disabling a car or a truck is relatively simple because new and late-model vehicles are brimming with electronics. The kill switch would be a line of code integrated into every car and truck sold new on the European market so officials wouldn’t need to hack into a vehicle. In a diesel-powered truck it would need to cut out the fuel supply, in a gasoline-burning car it could merely disable the ignition, but it could also deactivate any of the myriad sensors required for a modern internal combustion engine to run. The technology needed to stop a vehicle using any of the three aforementioned methods already exists.

While Restore was developed by government officials in the United Kingdom, the kill switch technology could be deployed across Europe. Sources told The Daily Mail that engineers hired by the European Union have been quietly developing a similar device for about two years. At the time, leaked documents explained the device was a way to track criminals by monitoring a car’s movements via GPS and stop it if necessary.

“Cars on the run can be dangerous for citizens. Criminal offenders will take risks to escape after a crime. In most cases the police are unable to chase the criminal due to a lack of efficient means to stop the vehicle safely,” the leaked documents explained.

British and European authorities haven’t commented on the report.

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