Going to the store? Uncle Sam wants to ride shotgun. There have been a few developments lately on how much information the government and others can access about its citizens, particularly while driving.
The most startling and surprising is the fact that cars could be under constant surveillance through a device known as an event data recorder, also known as a “black box.”
These boxes record such things as driving speed, whether or not you are wearing your seat belt, acceleration, whether the air bag deployed and other details.
In the event of a collision, the box would hold all of the key information about speeding and seat belts, thus helping police piece together the happenings of an accident. The idea is directly connected to the black boxes in airplanes. EDRs are in an estimated 15 percent of cars on the road, and the newer a car is, the more likely it is to have one – especially if it is made by General Motors.
The concept seems reasonable enough, until I wondered who actually owns the data in the car.
With foggy guidelines, the answer is anybody’s guess. Aside from the fact that not many drivers are aware of such a device, the data is often used and handled without the knowledge of the driver. California has a law requiring car companies to notify its costumers when they purchase a car with an EDR, and North Dakota has a law in the works.
Unsettling, but it gets worse.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently allocated millions of dollars in grants to states for a real-time Global Positioning System tracking.
The purpose is to be able to see exactly how often the roads are being used and assess road-use taxes accordingly. And you thought SEPTA fees were bad.
The use of the technology varies from state to state, but nearly all involve the broadcasting of the signal via Wi-Fi wireless Internet. The goal is for every car to contain one.
Between the GPS and the EDR, police could constantly monitor every detail of our day-to-day lives. And with little or no privacy protections in place thus far, the data would be ripe for the picking by thieves. It would be possible for someone to know that every Friday night you’re not home. Furthermore, if a thief knows your daily routine, then they might know where you do your banking or when the opportune time is to rob your house, among other things.
Combined with other sources of identity theft, this could be a grim scenario. Some believe engines could be set to shut down if the GPS system is tampered with, leaving the door wide open for terrorists.
This is nearly akin to dropping the soap in a prison shower.
The EDR and GPS technology may be suitable for commercial airplanes, but has no business being in our personal automobiles.
With a plane, someone is being paid to operate a machine that does not belong to them. If he operates the machine in an irresponsible matter, it reflects poorly on the company. Your car, on the other hand, is yours, or is in the process of being yours through loans and financing.
The company you bought it from has no say over what you do with that car. In the case of an automobile accident, no one would say, “It was the Ford’s fault he ran that red light!”
The only party that can stand to benefit from these technologies are lazy insurance companies who want to sacrifice the privacy of their customers for the sake of creating a short cut in determining whose fault the accident was.
America’s insurance and automobile safety framework is far from perfect, but spying on drivers is the wrong way to approach this. Why not construct roadways to be less prone to gridlock traffic and accidents?
Drive a few miles in Delaware, and you will know what I’m talking about. Why not improve the safety of the cars?
And why not entrust drivers to take care of themselves? The last thing we need is a power collecting up-to-the-second information on our daily habits and assuming drivers are incompetent.
Wasn’t there some guy who wrote a book about a watchful government oppressing its citizens? It didn’t have a happy ending, and neither will these policies.
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.