Technology will officially be used for combating congestion

Tracking devices will soon be fitted to cars registered in China in an effort to tackle the country's notorious congestion and pollution problem.

According to The Wall Street Journal, from July the country will begin fitting cars with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags at registration time. Although the scheme won't be compulsory at first, it looks likely it will become mandatory for new cars starting from 2019.

RFID units will be placed on a vehicle's windscreen, with readers situated at strategic locations by the side of the road. Due to the in-car unit's lack of a GPS receiver and network connectivity it can't be used to track a car everywhere and at all times.

The plan is to use the RFID system to help the government combat congestion and pollution, a problem which has reached worrying levels in many cities throughout the country.

Depending on what data is stored along with the RFID unit, it could also be used to clamp down on drivers who use fake plates to get around time-of-day or day-of-week driving restrictions.

Pilot versions of the scheme have been run in some cities already, including Wuxi and Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong.

Although the system won't be a world-first, it could turn out the biggest and most pervasive given the country's population of over 1.4 billion people, and new car sales of around 30 million per year.

Above: East 3rd Ring Night Traffic Jam by Yuxuan Wang on Flickr.

The program will be run by the Traffic Management Research Institute, which is part of the country's Ministry of Public Security. In documents seen by The Wall Street Journal, the system could also be used to combat vehicular terrorism.

This has raised fears it could be another plank in the country's growing surveillance apparatus, which includes the recently-introduced social credit scheme and more widespread use of facial recognition technology.

The nominally communist country has been monitoring and actively censoring voice and text communication for years, and has setup the Great Firewall to block overseas sites that regularly publish news and information the government deems unsavoury.

Header image: Traffic, Beijing by Andrea Paraggio on Flickr.