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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big Brother Riding Shotgun

Imagine getting a speeding ticket. Yeah, been there. Done that.

Now, imagine getting stopped at a random checkpoint and ticketed for speeding five days ago. Think it can't happen? The technology that would allow this is already being installed in new cars.

Michael Malone, in a recent column, tells us about a guy named Scott Weires who just canceled his order for a brand new Nissan GT-R:
    Why? Because he found out that the GT-R is going to have tucked away deep inside and attached to its chassis a black box similar to the ones we always hear about after airplane crashes. Yeah, that's right: an electronic data recorder (EDR) that keeps track of everything from air-bag sensors to throttle controls to engine performance gauges.

    Worse, at least to Weires, was that the GT-R contained an even more sophisticated version of EDR called a "Vehicle Status Data Recorder" (VSDR) -- this little baby not only activates when a crash is imminent, but runs all the time.

    Think about that for a moment, and then think about your driving history. ...

    ... Think of the worst possible scenarios, and whatever you come up with has a good chance of happening. For example, you know those random checkpoint stops that the police set up every year around the holidays to catch drunks. I've never been a big fan of them, mostly for civil liberties reasons, but like most people I endure this little inconvenience for the perceived larger good.

    But what about a checkpoint where the cop walks up, plugs his laptop into your car and then tickets you for going over the speed limit three times last week? Put up some "smart" speed signs that send out signals to your car's black box and it would be simple to make the comparison. Like that one?
Does this mean we can protect our privacy by simply not buying a Nissan?
    Well, no. In fact, most U.S. carmakers have already, or are about to, install EDRs. If you've got On-Star in your car, you certainly already have it. And if a car has an EDR, a new federal mandate requires that it monitor 30 different data points by 2012. Take a Ball-peen hammer or a jumper cable to your car's black box and you will be breaking the law.

    The good news is that some carmakers have no plans to install EDRs. For some, such as Kia, it's a cost consideration on their low-priced cars. More interesting is at the other end of the spectrum, where Mercedes and other German cars don't carry black boxes because they are deemed to violate privacy laws.

    Shouldn't that be some kind of clue? When the Germans -- who, after the Gestapo and the Stasi, know a little something about surveillance and the loss of privacy -- ban these devices, why should we let them into our daily lives?
Remember the good ol' days when the worst thing you had to worry about when driving a "smart" car was getting a lot of sarcastic back-talk?


Chris Wilde said...

Fortunately, I always drive 53mph in the left lane.

Medium Rare Please: said...

It's time to start designing the "computerized checkpoint evasion device." I'll be rich!

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