Google Driverless Cars Raise FBI Worries About Criminal Use

The FBI is reportedly concerned that criminals could modify and eventually use Google driverless cars to flee crime scenes or deliver bombs to targets.

Google driverless cars

An internal FBI report reveals that officials within the law-enforcement agency have serious concerns about the potential impact of driverless cars being developed by Google and other companies in high-speed pursuits of criminals and even terrorist bomb attacks on civilian targets.

The document, which is "unclassified but highly restricted," according to a July 16 report by The (London) Guardian newspaper, said that the FBI views such vehicles as a serious concern for law-enforcement authorities in the future. "Google's driverless car may remain a prototype, but the FBI believes the 'game-changing' vehicle could revolutionize high-speed car chases within a matter of years," according to the story. "The report also warned that autonomous cars may be used as 'lethal weapons.'"

The FBI report, which The Guardian said was obtained under a public records request, "predicts that autonomous cars 'will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car.'" Among the chief concerns is that "bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require [the] use of both hands, or [the ability to take] one's eyes off the road, which would be impossible today."

Such scenarios could also potentially allow crime suspects to one day be able to shoot "at pursuers from getaway cars that are driving themselves," the report states. The document was written by agents in the Strategic Issues Group within the FBI's Directorate of Intelligence, according to The Guardian.

Driverless vehicles "will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today," the report states, according to the paper. "This presumably reflects fears that criminals might override safety features to ignore traffic lights and speed limits, or that terrorists might program explosive-packed cars to become self-driving bombs."

At the same time, the FBI report does acknowledge that driverless cars could have benefits, including the potential to reduce the number of serious vehicle collisions on the nations' roadways because of their built-in safety and navigational technologies, the paper reported. "The risk is that distraction or poor judgment leading to [collisions] that [stem] from manual operation would be substantially reduced," the report states.

In addition, since vehicles such as Google's driverless cars presently are built to have a top speed of only 25 mph, concerns about high-speed chase potential could eventually be moot, the FBI states in its report.

The FBI analysis is interesting either way, especially because it looks at the potential use of a seemingly benign vehicle as a potential tool for criminals and terrorists in the future. One must wonder if such crazy thoughts ever entered into the minds of Google researchers and others experimenting with such technologies as they created their vehicles.

Responding to an email inquiry from eWEEK, Google declined to comment about the FBI concerns.

The self-driving vehicle project was launched by Google in 2010 as a research effort to see how such vehicles could be used to save peoples' lives, cut driving time, and curb carbon emissions and pollution. The project began using Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles with trained operators all over the roads and highways of California, and since has expanded to other vehicles. So far, the vehicles have traveled more than 700,000 miles as part of the effort.