Месечни архиви: August 2017

Intelligent urban transport systems: a new technology which could change our lives

By Christian Kurrer, with James Tarlton

Intelligent urban transport systems

© Fuyu liu / Shutterstock.com

Can information technology contribute to alleviating traffic gridlock in our increasingly congested urban areas?

Over 70 % of all Europeans live in cities, and as this percentage continues to increase, cities become even more congested. Inhabitants suffer from increasingly poor air quality and more noise, as their cities become generally less liveable.

The recent car emissions controversy has drawn considerable attention to the problem of air pollution generated by private car traffic. The row revealed that efforts to reduce air pollution in Europe through stricter emissions regulations are largely ineffective. There is some, justified, expectation that a switch from gasoline to electric vehicles will have a significant impact on pollution levels, but the introduction of electric cars will still take years, and switching to electric vehicles alone will do little to solve the worsening congestion problems.

In recent years, we have therefore seen a renewed interest in the possibilities of intelligent transport system (ITS) solutions.

Potential impacts and developments

Numerous initiatives are under way to investigate how ITS can contribute to making traffic flow smoother and therefore more efficient. Many possibilities arise from the fact that cars are becoming ever more intelligent and increasingly communicate with their immediate environment. Already today, cars can adapt their speeds to the car driving in front, and future interaction with intelligent traffic signals will cut delays and fuel consumption. Cars will be able to book a parking spot at their destination in advance. Currently, satellite navigation systems can optimise routes accounting for the actual traffic situation, but future systems could communicate with each other through a central computer to optimise the overall set of routes that all vehicles should take, avoiding situations where too many drivers want to switch at the same time to the same seemingly faster route around a bottleneck.

All of these technological options would certainly allow more efficient management of current traffic levels. The question is, however, whether this will actually translate into less congestion in urban areas, or whether encouraging even more users to commute to work using their personal car would balance out the increases in fluidity.

Allowing more private passenger traffic to reach city centres smoothly, at the same time, would raise the problem of where to park all these cars. We would not gain much if traffic became smoother, but parking spaces increasingly difficult to find.

Anticipatory policy-making

Solving traffic gridlock in urban areas might require more than just increasing the traffic flow at individual intersections. It might require a more fundamental reassessment of how we want to meet our mobility needs in the future, make use of public spaces, and organise our urban lives.

One option could be to aim at an intelligent traffic system giving absolute priority to surface-bound public transport such as buses or trams. Traffic signals along roads employed by public transport could be programmed in such a way that buses would never have to stop for a red light, nor for cars blocking the road. A major drawback of public bus services today is that their effective travelling speed in urban areas rarely exceeds 15 km/h, and that their frequent stops at bus stops mean that they move even slower than private cars.

With ITS, we could drastically change this situation, potentially even doubling the effective travelling speeds of buses, which also means that the same number of buses and drivers could transport twice as many passengers.

In other words, the most effective way to faster, more fuel-efficient passenger car traffic might actually be an investment in the attractiveness of public transport. In addition to speed, the price of public transport is also a key aspect influencing individuals’ transport choices. Many people find the price of a single ride ticket too expensive for occasional use, or find tariff structures too confusing to understand. Public transport authorities perhaps focus too much effort today in selling and controlling tickets, with ever more high-tech access control systems, rather than actually transporting their passengers. A bus driver, who stops at a bus stop for a minute to sell a single-ride ticket for €2, while 60 passengers wait in the back, is a macro-economic nonsense.

If efficient public transport is considered to be a public necessity, we may need to think more fundamentally about who should pay for it, and how. Perhaps one might simply consider switching over to providing public transport for free as a rule, the same way in which we switched over to free public education decades ago. At the same time, we could re-assess whether cities should continue to provide free on-street parking spaces for residents. Charging residents for on-street parking could raise the necessary funds to make public transport free for all. Disincentivising parking of private cars on public roads could also make more public space available for even smoother public transport services. In addition, instead of using increasingly sophisticated machines to sell and control tickets for people who travel to town by bus, we could use all of this technical ingenuity to install systems that control and charge motorists who drive to cities in personal cars, providing additional funds to improve public transport.

Furthermore, besides focusing on the technical infrastructure, other options at the user level could make our transport system more intelligent. Daily commuters fill the streets at present, often travelling more or less similar routes in separate cars. ITS systems that would make spontaneous identification of options for ride sharing easier could reduce the need to use individual cars most of the time.

Many options exist therefore to make our traffic system more intelligent. Modern information technology offers tremendous opportunities in this field, but we will still need human ingenuity and imagination to harness its full potential.


This post is part of a series based on the EPRS publication ‘Ten more technologies which could change our lives‘, which draws attention to ten specific technologies and promotes further reflection about other innovations, in a follow-up to the 2015 ground-breaking publication ‘Ten technologies which could change our lives – potential impacts and policy implications‘. The publications explore the promises and potential negative consequences of these new technologies, and the role that the European Parliament as co-legislator could, and should, play in shaping these developments. The publications feed into the work and priorities of the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel and parliamentary committees.

Tell us what other important technological developments you see that might have a significant impact on the way we live in the future, and that would require European policy-makers’ attention, by leaving a comment below or completing our feedback questionnaire.

To keep up-to-date with STOA activities, follow our website, the EPRS blog, Twitter, You tube and Think Tank website.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/08/10/intelligent-urban-transport-systems-a-new-technology-which-could-change-our-lives/

Europe’s emergency telephone number: 112 [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Sarah Sheil with Amalie Bjornavold,

112 emergency

© georgejmclittle / Fotolia

EU citizenship has made it much easier to live, work and travel across the European Union. As a consequence of this heightened mobility, a common emergency number was introduced by the EU as a safety net – capable of reaching police, ambulance and fire brigade services free of charge, wherever you are on the continent. Even though 255 million mobile emergency calls are made each year, only 48 % of travellers are currently aware that 112 exists.

Background

The intention behind creating a single European emergency number was to ensure that urgent help is accessible to anyone, regardless of where they might find themselves in Europe. From being accustomed to learning a new number wherever they went, travellers now only need to remember one: 112. Furthermore, a distinct feature of 112 is that the operator will be able to speak in several languages – the language of the country, and neighbouring countries, and English, and French or German in most cases. Significant challenges remain, though, especially with regard to the lack of awareness of its existence and location accuracy, given that each year, approximately 300 000 callers are unable to locate where they are. While emergency operators see the address at which a fixed phone is registered, with mobile phones, only the closest network antenna of the caller is identified, with the coverage area largely dependent on how densely populated the area is, sometimes causing difficulties in finding the victim.

Implementing the single European emergency number

112 was first standardised in 1972 with a recommendation by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications, and further in the EU by the adoption of a Council Decision introducing it in 1991. Since then, 112 has grown to either replace national emergency numbers (in eight EU Member States: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Sweden) or operate alongside them. The 2002 Universal Service Directive provided detailed requirements for Member States on the implementation of the emergency number. All are required to ensure that both fixed and mobile phone users can reach 112 free of charge; that they are handled irrespective of whether other emergency numbers in the country exist; that operators can establish the location of callers, and that awareness-raising activities are performed – such as celebrating 112 day on 11 February each year. Since the adoption of the 2009 Roaming Regulation, mobile network operators are required to send a text message to inform travellers of 112 when they arrive in a new country. Although developments are under way, locating victims can still be difficult. The Universal Service Directive was updated in 2009 to encourage the use of new technologies in improving location services. An example of this in practice is the adoption of the 2015 eCall Regulation, requiring all new vehicles to be equipped with eCall technology as of April 2018. eCall will automatically dial 112 and locate the vehicle’s whereabouts should the caller be unconscious. This is expected to reduce emergency response times by up to 50 % in rural areas, and 40 % in urban areas. Support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML), a technology installed in mobile phones that allows emergency operators to track a caller’s location, is also growing. The Help 112 project, funded by the Commission, is facilitating the deployment of AML. The Commission is monitoring the correct implementation of EU law on 112, and can take legal action if necessary.

What to do in an emergency

In calling the emergency operator for urgent help, one must immediately provide information on what has happened, where you are, and what kind of help you need from what kind of service – whether it is the police, the fire brigade or an ambulance. One should never hang up until the operator tells you to do so. Nor should 112 ever be used for non-emergencies – to ask for directions, information or road conditions, for instance.


This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/08/09/europes-emergency-telephone-number-112-what-is-europe-doing-for-its-citizens/

Roam like at home as of summer 2017 [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Mar Negreiro,

Smartphone - Roaming Worldwide

© beugdesign / Fotolia

From 15 June 2017 on, using your mobile phone anywhere in the EU will cost you the same as at home. The long-awaited end to roaming charges within the EU was agreed upon by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament two years ago. The Parliament played a crucial role in making this happen on time, and with cheaper wholesale data caps – the amounts telephone companies can charge each other to connect users outside their home networks – meaning you will have access to larger amounts of data when using your mobile phone while travelling in the EU.

A clear success story for the digital single market

Abolishing roaming charges has been a major priority for achieving the digital single market. Accordingly, since 2007 retail roaming charges for calls, text messages and data have been reduced by more than 90 % through a series of EU regulations. In 2015, the Council and the Parliament agreed on abolishing roaming charges altogether as from 15 June 2017.

Thereafter, the ‘roam-like-at-home’ (RLAH) system will become a reality for all Europeans travelling within the EU. Users will not need to do anything to access the RLAH system, as it will be included in all mobile contracts offering roaming services. This will put an end to an era of bills, which, because they were unpredictable or at times excessive, had prompted many Europeans to switch off their mobiles while abroad and use Wi-Fi or other affordable solutions instead. The number of people using their mobile phones while travelling to another Member State is expected to rise, to both individuals’ and companies’ benefit.

What these developments mean is that as of mid-June, Europeans will pay the same domestic prices when using their mobile devices anywhere in the EU. However, they could still face certain limits to the data volumes they can use compared to at home, because of the rules on ‘fair use’. These rules allow operators to safeguard the RLAH system against abusive or anomalous usage, for example by discouraging ‘permanent roamers’ – using a SIM card from a Member State perceived to have cheaper domestic tariffs while never or rarely being present in that country – and averting price hikes on domestic markets. Not only persons who are travelling, but also those with stable links to the Member State of the operator, such as cross-border commuters, posted workers and Erasmus students, will be able to use their mobile device in another Member State just as they would at home. Providers can ask their customers to provide proof of residence or of other such stable links to the Member State in question.

The European Parliament’s role

The European Parliament has played a crucial role in making this to happen. First, it voted in 2013 to end mobile phone roaming fees, and then found an agreement with Council to do this from 15 June 2017. Second, it played a key role in lowering considerably the wholesale roaming data caps, as a prerequisite for introducing RLAH in June 2017. As a result, consumers will benefit from larger amounts of mobile data when travelling in the EU. Third, it has also played a role in improving the ‘fair use’ rules as proposed by the European Commission, which envisaged restricting RLAH to 90 days per year per citizen. Following criticism from consumers and MEPs, these were withdrawn and replaced by roam like at home with no travel time limits, as Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Parliament in his State of the Union 2016 speech.


This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/08/07/roam-like-at-home-as-of-summer-2017-what-is-europe-doing-for-its-citizens/

Remember, you have the right to be forgotten [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Shara Monteleone,

Increasing use of digital technologies in almost every daily activity and the related flow of data have made access to and availability of personal data easier for companies, governments and citizens. In particular online, finding information about a fact or a person has become unprecedentedly easy.

Data protection as a fundamental right

US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

© Michael Brown / Fotolia

Any information relating to a person identified or identifiable (even indirectly) is personal data. Most Europeans use the internet to read news, join social networks, and shop, sharing data in the process. However, the majority are concerned about data being collected or used without their knowledge. Losing control of our data is one of the three main challenges of the web according to its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. Keeping control of our data means keeping control over our lives. In the EU, data protection is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, along with the right to privacy. EU law, as a consequence, regulates data processing, striking a balance between data protection and other rights or interests (e.g. freedom of expression, public security), and sets strict conditions under which data may be processed.

The ‘right to be forgotten’

Data protection should be effective, as judgments of the Court of Justice of the EU have underlined. In the landmark Google Spain case, legitimate grounds relating to a particular individual situation were recognised as justifying objections to data processing. In that case, a Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja, gained the right to have personal data deleted from search engines, following a complaint that an old (solved) debt problem continued to affect his reputation as it still appeared online in links to newspaper pages from 1998. The Court confirmed that search engine activities amount to data processing, and are thus subject to the 1995 Data Protection Directive, and that a search engine is a ‘data controller’ with the obligation to ensure protection.

The Court stressed that the data subject had the right ‘at a certain point in time’ to request that the information no longer be made available, over-riding not only the economic interest of a search engine, but also the interest of the general public to have access to that information. Google would thus now be obliged to delete links to third-party webpages related to a person from the list of search results, even when publication on these webpages is lawful. However, it made clear that, in other circumstances, the interest of the general public to have access to information may be preponderant. The Court thus contributed to defining rights now included in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, to be fully applicable from May 2018. This strengthens citizens’ rights, through, for instance, a clear and affirmative consent requirement and increased transparency obligations on how data are used. Building on existing doctrine on le droit à l’oubli and the right to delete, it includes the ‘right to be forgotten’: unless there are legitimate grounds for retaining data, e.g. press freedom or for archiving purposes, individuals may have their data deleted.


Nevertheless, an individual’s right to be forgotten is not absolute, as confirmed by the Court in a recent ruling (Manni case) which sought a fair balance between this and other individuals’ right to access data in a public register (namely a companies’ register). This third-party right to access data on public registers can only be limited if, on a case-by-case basis, legitimate and over-riding reasons to hide or erase personal data exist.


Issues may arise with regard to third parties’ interest in keeping and accessing information (e.g. for historical purposes) and freedom of expression. However, the EU approach does not necessarily see these rights as excluding each other; rather, data protection and privacy are instrumental for other rights. As the European Data Protection Supervisor recently affirmed, data protection and privacy and other rights and freedoms under EU law are interdependent. The UN special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci, sees privacy as an enabling right, or foundation, supporting other rights.


This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/08/04/remember-you-have-the-right-to-be-forgotten-what-is-europe-doing-for-its-citizens/

Radio frequency identification tags: a new technology which could change our lives

By Lieve Van Woensel and Andrés Garcia, University Castilla La Mancha, Spain (guest contributor), with James Tarlton

Radio frequency identification tags

© Andreynikolaev / Shutterstock.com

The Internet of Things is slated to transform our way of life – while radio frequency identification tags, and other short-range communication devices, are already with us – how might this technology change our way of life?

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is replacing barcodes on a massive scale, as a way of tagging consumer goods. In the light of recent food scandals, this could facilitate the traceability of food and beverages in a more efficient and exhaustive way than what is feasible with barcodes.

RFID is also the technology behind the tags that are now common on some clothes, books or other products, easily distinguished thanks to a kind of coil, or piece of foil, that acts as an antenna. With this technology, gates containing the required reader detect products as they pass through. While this is similar to some older anti-theft systems, now it is also possible to identify specific products uniquely for other purposes, such as billing or to consult a product’s characteristics. This is possible because the tag contains an ID number that is longer than those used in barcodes, and is structured in such a way that it can be used to automatically access databases with additional information on the internet.

This capability of the reader to not only identify the product, but also to access a plethora of related information, has given rise to ideas such as smart objects or the Internet of Things (IoT). A smart object is an object that enhances its interaction not only with people but also with other smart objects. The Internet of Things is the integration of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.

New applications of these ideas are constantly appearing, and research in this area is thriving. RFID tags could be useful throughout the product life cycle, from the gathering of the required parts or raw materials, all along the manufacturing and supply chains, including at the point of sale, and up to the processes of recycling and waste management. This could shorten queues at supermarkets, as all products in the trolley are read instantaneously. Users could also benefit by taking advantage of the capability of the objects themselves to provide access to related information, such as usage instructions, that appliances can automatically access. For example, a bag of food could update the freezer on the required temperature for adequate preservation, or warn it about upcoming expiration dates, or inform the microwave oven about the required cooking temperature and time.

However, the concept of tracking objects raises some concerns. Whereas a smartphone is likely to remain a relatively conspicuous device, the somewhat hidden tag in an object that can mysteriously give access to so much information can be seen as a threat.

Potential impacts and developments

It is important to note that, for reasons of efficiency and price, basic RFID tags used for tracking consumer goods work in the ultra-high frequency (UHF) range and are passive (i.e. do not have batteries). This is noteworthy because it defines the properties and capabilities of the tag. Using UHF means that the reading ranges may be relatively long under certain conditions but, on the other hand, not having batteries means that they are required to use the power coming from the carrier signal provided by the antennas connected to the reader. In addition, UHF is prone to malfunction in the presence of liquids (that absorb the energy) or metals (that reflect the signal creating interference). All of this results in readers being necessarily quite costly and conspicuous (e.g. as a reading arch in a shop) even if tags are not.

Another implication of the requirement for such simple tags (to use very little energy), is that the communication protocols implemented in them are rather basic. This means that they are not secure, as they do not include encryption or any other measures of protection. Further research is currently underway in these areas, but for the moment, it is possible to tamper with the information in several ways (counterfeiting, eavesdropping, cloning, spoofing, jamming etc.).

As well as basic UHF RFID tags, other tags are also very common and even simpler, as is the case for those using near field communication (NFC) technology. NFC uses lower frequencies; meaning tags are only read at very short distances (usually by a hand-held device) and one at a time. The advantage is that they require only a cheap and simple reader. On the other hand, many other types of tags with improved capabilities also exist, as by adding a battery (to make ‘active tags’); they may become sufficiently complex for many different applications. Active tags can include sensors, actuators and a large memory, and make extended communication ranges possible. All of these capabilities again contribute to public concern regarding the applications of this technology.

Anticipatory policy-making

It is important to note that, at present, any small tags hidden in everyday objects are always simple, passive devices; with quite limited capabilities, (versions that are more powerful are usually bigger and far more conspicuous). Therefore, it is always difficult to read a tag, and even more so in the EU, where the power of readers is limited to two watts by law (while four watts are allowed in the USA). This means that reading ranges are usually limited to about two metres. Furthermore, the authorities can easily detect and control the readers, as they work in a similar way to radar. However, it is important to keep in mind that these tags are designed for simple consumer goods. Therefore, even if the possibilities associated with their use are rather broad, it is unlikely that any hypothetical ‘Big Brother’ will use the tags.

On the other hand, there is a real concern on the part of the developers about the safety of this technology when used for certain applications. To begin with, it would be important to ascertain a realistic limit to the power used by the readers, as this creates a serious limitation. While two watts seem to have very little effect on the human body, it is important to take into account that UHF uses the same wavelengths as microwave ovens. Therefore, there is a concern regarding the possibility of ‘hot spots’ appearing in certain locations that may affect biological products. For example, hospitals use UHF RFID tags to track bags of blood, but there does not seem to be any specific research on the effects that the readers may have on the preservation of these products.

There are still many possible improvements around RFID, but the technology is already available, and the possible applications are many. It is true that there is no complete guarantee that the technology is fault-free and tamper-proof, but we cannot compare the simple tags designed to identify consumer goods with the devices that could be used to track a person, such as smartphones. Nevertheless, the use of this interesting technology can certainly help solve the many problems that appear along supply chains, affecting consumers. It may be preferable to accept the remote possibility of the authorities knowing what you are eating, rather than risk food poisoning.


This post is part of a series based on the EPRS publication ‘Ten more technologies which could change our lives‘, which draws attention to ten specific technologies and promotes further reflection about other innovations, in a follow-up to the 2015 ground-breaking publication ‘Ten technologies which could change our lives – potential impacts and policy implications‘. The publications explore the promises and potential negative consequences of these new technologies, and the role that the European Parliament as co-legislator could, and should, play in shaping these developments. The publications feed into the work and priorities of the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel and parliamentary committees.

Tell us what other important technological developments you see that might have a significant impact on the way we live in the future, and that would require European policy-makers’ attention, by leaving a comment below or completing our feedback questionnaire.

To keep up-to-date with STOA activities, follow our website, the EPRS blog, Twitter, You tube and Think Tank website.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/08/03/radio-frequency-identification-tags-a-new-technology-which-could-change-our-lives/

Rights for consumers of digital content [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Rafał Mańko,

In December 2015, the European Commission proposed legislation that would grant consumers of digital content a set of uniform rights across the EU. The proposal is now before the European co-legislators – the Parliament and Council.

A growing online market

Online sale icons

© Do Ra / Fotolia

Contracts for the supply of digital content are concluded on a daily basis by millions of consumers across the globe. Consumers purchase or hire digital content increasingly often, not only whenever they purchase computer programs or mobile applications, but also when they access cultural and entertainment goods in digital formats, such as music, films, e-books or games. Also, consumers often acquire digital services, for instance when they use cloud computing services (for the storage, processing and use of data on remotely located servers accessed online) or social media platforms. In this context, the Commission, as part of its digital single market strategy, has put forward a proposal for a directive on contracts for supply of digital content to consumers.

European Commission proposal

Currently in the EU, only the United Kingdom has legislation specifically addressing contracts for supply of digital content. Some countries, such as Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, apply rules concerning ‘tangible world’ contracts, such as sale, services or rental contracts, to digital content. The Commission proposal intends to grant consumers of digital content a set of rights, which would be uniform across the EU. This approach, called ‘maximum harmonisation’, means however that individual Member States will not be allowed to provide for a higher level of consumer protection in the area covered by the directive. On the other hand, maximum harmonisation is beneficial to traders, who will be able to expect, with somewhat greater precision, the legal rules which will be applicable in other Member States than their own. The proposal includes in its scope not only contracts where consumers pay for digital content with money, but also those where they actively provide personal data or other data in exchange. However, the concept of ‘paying by data’ met with doubts from the European Data Protection Supervisor.

European Parliament

Within the European Parliament, the proposal is being jointly analysed by two committees: the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee. In their joint draft report, the co-rapporteurs propose to inverse the role of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ criteria of conformity in favour of the consumer. Hence, consumers would have the right to digital content of the quality normally expected. A supplier will be able to exclude their liability for such quality only by making the consumer aware of the specific condition of the digital content beforehand, and getting the consumer to expressly agree. This modification strengthens the extent of consumer protection, bringing it into line with the rules on sale of tangible goods.

The original proposal extended to contracts in which consumers actively provide personal data or other data as ‘counter-performance’ (i.e. instead of a price in cash). The co-rapporteurs would expand this definition to include data collected by the trader (i.e. provided ‘passively’ by the consumer), as well as that collected by a third party in the interest of the trader. This way there would be no doubt that, for instance, tracking cookies are also included. The rapporteurs also wish to strengthen the protection of consumers in respect of personal data processing. A new rule would provide that any contract terms which are detrimental to a consumer’s data protection rights under the General Data Protection Regulation would not be binding on the consumer. However, the remaining part of the contract would continue to bind the parties if its terms were capable of existing without that unfair term.


This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/08/02/rights-for-consumers-of-digital-content-what-is-europe-doing-for-its-citizens/