By on February 14, 2008

onstar_modem2_lg.jpgEver since the Model T hit the silver screen, evading the long arm of the law has been a cinematic theme. From the General Lee outrunning Boss Hogg, to Smokey being outwitted by Burt Reynolds' mustache, the public imagination has always associated fast cars with police pursuit. While the majority of motorists would never dream of trying to outrun the long arm of the law, soon, they won't have to. It'll be resting on their shoulder. Consider OnStar…  

OnStar is a telemetry system providing a central data bank with real-time data on virtually every system in your car, including GPS. OnStar's computer knows where you were, when you were there, and how fast you went. It knows if and when you applied the brakes, if and when the air bags deployed, and what speed you were going at the time. It knows if and when your car was serviced.

OnStar operators can determine if you have a passenger in the front seat (airbag detection). All interactions with OnStar's operators are automatically recorded (hence the commercials). By the same token, under certain conditions, OnStar can switch on your GM car's microphone remotely and record any and all sounds within the vehicle (i.e. conversations). But wait, there's more…  

As of 2009, customers who upgrade to OnStar's "Safe & Sound" plan automatically receive the "Stolen Vehicle Slowdown" service. (Yes, it's an "opt out" deal.) If the OnStar-equipped vehicle is reported stolen and law enforcement has "established a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle," the police may ask OnStar to slow it down remotely.  

Many customers find OnStar immensely reassuring; their guardian e-angel. No question: OnStar has saved lives and provided its customers with valuable services. Otherwise, they wouldn't be in business. But what if…

The police are investigating a crime. They ask OnStar where your car was on a certain date and time, to corroborate an alibi. Or what if you're in a crash and the other guy's attorney would like to know how fast you were driving when you ran the red light? Would OnStar surrender the information? "OnStar is required to locate the car to comply with legal requirements, including valid court orders showing probable cause in criminal investigations." And OnStar may use gathered information to "protect the rights, property, or safety of you or others."

Imagine the following scenario. The FBI shows up at OnStar master command and tells them your car's been stolen by a terrorist, who may be using it to commit a crime at this very moment. Contacting the owner is out of the question; the owner may also be a terrorist. What does OnStar do? They cooperate with the FBI and give them everything they've got on your car. No warrant needed and no notification to you. Hell, you may not even have the service enabled. 

In other words, you not only have to trust OnStar to protect your privacy, you have to trust the police not to ask the questions in the first place.

The Constitution of the United States protects us from the heavy hand of government. However, when it comes to protection from private entities, it does little. Into this void, multiple privacy laws have entered, creating a farrago of local, state, and federal laws which provide limited and haphazard protection to citizens.  Whatever privacy protection these laws provide are usually nullified when companies violate them in "good faith" (e.g. while assisting the authorities.)

So who is going to stop the government from monitoring your car? The Bill of Rights protects you from an unreasonable search and seizure; the government can not take what belongs to you without a warrant. OnStar can owns the information they collect about your car. In short, there is nothing to stop the police or OnStar from using the information you paid for against you.

And the next step is even more insidious.  Imagine GPS speed limiters which only allow you to go the speed limit based upon a map uploaded into your car's navigation system. Now Sammy Hagar will only be driving 55 no matter how hard he stomps on the go pedal. This is the ultimate assault on pistonheads.  The only place where driving will be fun will be on the track– if OnStar and/or the car's manufacturer (e.g. the Japanese GT-R) let you.

There's only one sensible response to this trend: boycott vehicles equipped with OnStar, even if you don't sign up for the service. (Remember: it can be remotely enabled.) If customers actively avoid vehicles that spy on them, manufacturers will have to stop installing the monitoring software and hardware. And law enforcement agencies and prosecutors will have to get their information and apprehend criminals the old-fashioned way: through legally-sanctioned police work. In short, I don't buy OnStar, and neither should you.   

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53 Comments on “OnStar: Big Brother’s Eye in the Sky...”


  • avatar
    bolhuijo

    Should you end up with an OnStar equipped vehicle, you are always free to locate the unit and disconnect it from its antenna and microphone.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    “There’s only one sensible response to this trend: boycott vehicles equipped with OnStar, even if you don’t sign up for the service.”

    GM’s Onstar is also known as Lexus Link for the GS/LS/GX/LX. I don’t think there are any other OEM’s offering OnStar anymore.

    JJ, do you know if BMW’s Assist or Mercedes-Benz’s Tele-Aid have similar Big Brother features?

  • avatar
    timoted

    The features and benefits of these types of systems are popular by your average consumer and their usefullness outweighs how they COULD be used or exploited. I guess if you’re NOT a terrorist or a conspiracy theorist then OnStar is probably an option you may want to consider. On the other hand, if you are a terrorist I would recommend either yanking the plug or choosing a different vehicle manufacturer. Are they still running reruns of the X-Files?

    • 0 avatar
      Mrinquistr

      If you ever read a history book u’ll see that its foolish to think that power won’t be currupted. Even tho it’s not a garentee it needs to be treated as such. I don’t mind if onstar or the government gets more power, but wouldn’t it be wise if then there was also an additional check put in place. Ya if it was Jesus, ghandi, and mother theresa at the top then I wouldn’t mind. I don’t know if i would boycott onstar but i certainly wouldn’t ridicule the article

  • avatar
    dean

    I wonder if Tiger Woods knows all this. Sure, he didn’t need to club his window with a 9-iron when he locked himself out of his Enclave in the rain, but you think he would be creeped out knowing someone at the OnStar NerveCenter could track him around.

    Seriously, though, OnStar is not an unduplicatable technology (while some specifics may be patented, I doubt they could patent the concept of vehicle telemetry) so the fact that almost nobody else offers it makes you wonder if they are a little more reluctant to play Big Brother than GM.

    Anyone have revenue figures for OnStar? Does GM make money with it?

  • avatar
    steronz

    I think you missed the key privacy issue here. If the FBI or local authorities contact OnStar looking for information on your specific vehicle, then most likely (all fears aside) they’re already suspecting you of a crime, they probably have warrants (or they should), and this isn’t outside the realm of normal police procedures; just another tool for the job. Just like if they find DNA at a crime scene, already have you pegged as a suspect, and look for a match.

    The real concern is that OnStar has a huge amount of data that can be misused to fish for suspects. If the FBI knows a crime was commited on a certain stretch of road at a certain time, they can go to OnStar and find out all the cars that were on that road at that time. That’s one piece of circumstantial evidence that suddenly applies to several unlucky people, all of whom now have the unjust burden of proving their innocence. This is similar to DNA and fingerprint database misuse, where evidence collected at a crime scene is plugged into a database on a fishing expedition.

    So now we’re stuck with the choice between a proven life-saving technology, and not having every move we make logged in a database forever. It would be nice if OnStar would do the nice thing and purge all records daily.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Honestly, this just sounds like a lot of technological scare-mongering.

    By the same token, under certain conditions, OnStar can switch on your GM car’s microphone remotely and record any and all sounds within the vehicle (i.e. conversations).

    The Federal Government has been able to do the very same thing with cell phones for quite some time.

    http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1035_22-6140191.html

    Cell phones also have built-in GPS recievers to comply with the new e-911 standard. OnStar isn’t necessary to track you.

    OnStar can owns the information they collect about your car. In short, there is nothing to stop the police or On-Star from using the information you paid for to be used against you.

    http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0510/03/A01-335316.htm

    Most states already have passed laws that determine that the information recorded on ‘black box’ event data recorders are owned by the vehicle owner. Should this become a problem with OnStar and other similar services in the future, the law can be amended to include them too, if it hasn’t already been done so.

    Imagine GPS speed limiters which only allow you to go the speed limit based upon a map uploaded into your car’s navigation system. Now Sammy Hagar will only be driving 55 no matter how hard he stomps on the go pedal. This is the ultimate assault on pistonheads.

    But such a scenario you propose would never happen. Why? There’s no money to be had in keeping all vehicles electronically limited to the posted speed limit. That fancy new laser gun needs to be justified somehow.

    There’s only one sensible response to this trend: boycott vehicles equipped with OnStar, even if you don’t sign up for the service.

    I disagree. It’s not sensible, it’s a luddite respone to new technology. The same arguments against OnStar can be used for not buying a cell phone, using the internet, or making purchases with a credit card. Sticking your head in the sand and acting as if this technology doesn’t exist is the wrong way to do things. If you want to ensure OnStar is never abused, vigorous monitoring of their policies and practicies is a more sensible approach.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    I have OnStar in my truck and the government is welcome to all the data they can collect, including more than a few cuss words when one of the highway “hooners” pulls a stupid..

  • avatar
    timoted

    The other side of the coin is that very same data could be used to exonerate an individual. (Proving that the vehicle was in a different location, place, etc)Again, if you’re that concerend with privacy then the option to pull the plug can be done as some owners do. It would be interesting to see just how many requests OnStar gets from law enforcement or other legal agencies for this type of data.

    In regards to a crash incident, data can be extracted from nearly all vehicles with an on-board computer relating to the last few seconds up to and during a crash incident. While it requires a little more effort, the data is still there for the taking.

  • avatar
    dwford

    It’s not just Onstar. Many cars ecus now have a data recorder feature that can also tell the police what you were doing prior to an event. And there’s no way to disconnect it, it’s built in.

    No worries about the Onstar. I would guess most regular readers here would be hard pressed to force themselves into a GM product anyway.

  • avatar

    I don’t care whether the gummint or FBI tap the data – a straying husband/wife might find it a bit worse if their partner got a private eye to tap it, and what guarantee do we have that this is not possible? :-)

    BTW – the telecoms just got their retroactive immunity after handing all their phone records to the gummint, so no need to hold one’s breath on whether this data will be made available.

  • avatar
    BuckD

    @timoted:

    I’m disturbed by the current growing trend in reasoning that if I’m not a terrorist, I have nothing to worry about from government surveillance. That’s a slippery slope to a police state, and we’re sliding down it right now. As your legal rights are chipped away and the government’s power grows, opportunities for government abuse increase while your ability to protect yourself from that abuse decrease. It’s not inconceivable that you or someone you know could one day wind up on government’s bad side. You could be part of a group that’s not in favor with the powers-that-be, or express an unpopular idea, or have something that a corrupt official wants, and without checks and balances and rule of law, you’re up shit creek. I wouldn’t take your civil liberties lightly.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    There’s a million ways to track you. Boycotting OnStar isn’t the solution to unwarranted government intrusion, the solution to unwarranted government intrusion is to elect leaders who respect the rule of law.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    You might as well boycott the internet while your at it.

  • avatar
    timoted

    BuckD :

    I wouldn’t take your civil liberties lightly.

    I don’t take them lightly. Again the easy out is to drive a vehicle without the OnStar product. Paranoia can be created easily by things we don’t necessarily understand or trust. Do you remember Y2K? All the consipiracy theorist were stock- piling cash, generators, bottled water and everything else due to fears that the world was coming to an end at midnight 1/1/2000.

    We are talking about a option on a car, not a government mandated device. The only way to avoid it, is to drive a car that pre-dates advanced electronics. That’s not necessarily my idea of freedom.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    You had me until you started talking about the scenario where a terrorist might steal an onstar-equipped vehicle to commit a terrorist act.

    Terrorists may not all be geniuses, but I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to attempt a terrorist act in a Cobalt.

    But seriously, this editorial is well written and definitely poses some scary concerns about privacy.

  • avatar
    L47_V8

    starlightmica :
    February 14th, 2008 at 9:24 am

    “There’s only one sensible response to this trend: boycott vehicles equipped with OnStar, even if you don’t sign up for the service.”

    GM’s Onstar is also known as Lexus Link for the GS/LS/GX/LX. I don’t think there are any other OEM’s offering OnStar anymore.

    JJ, do you know if BMW’s Assist or Mercedes-Benz’s Tele-Aid have similar Big Brother features?

    Acura offered OnStar service from the late-1990s until an unknown date. I don’t think they do anymore. However, some Acura models on the used market could have this feature.

    Mercedes-Benz’ COMAND system has OnStar-like components, as well, including crash detection and GPS location/guidance.

    BMW Assist is another OEM telematics system that offers OnStar-rivaling services.

    Does anyone know if the Verizon-driven severance of “analog” OnStar systems would have any effect on the ability to enact this sort of tracking? Our 2001 Aurora has the older system – no longer useable by the consumer, even if he/she is willing to pay for it – and a few other older GM cars I’d consider owning (Intrigue, Regal GS, first-generation Aurora) also have the older system that supposedly can’t be used any longer.

  • avatar
    BuckD

    Y2K or peak oil conspiracies aren’t the same thing as an existing technology that has the ability to gather data about you and even control your vehicle, combined with our government’s demonstrated willingness to manipulate, ignore or retroactively change laws concerning the collection of private data (see Stein X Leikanger’s comments above).

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Just a heads up…they can do this through your cell phone as well as long as it is turned on. So while you ditch your OnStar, also ditch your cell phone, and hope to god you never get stranded.

  • avatar
    Jonathan I. Locker

    I believe that this article is best understood within the context of thetruthaboutcars.com, and not Consumer Reports. The website is about what makes a great car, those who really like to drive, and those who enjoy automobiles that evoke the sounds of procreating seismic events.

    OnStar is just the beginning, but soon every car will have en electronic overlord. And once that happens, it is not too much longer before we are just passengers in a car driven by computer.

    But this is not thetruthaboutcommuting.com, we care about the essence of the automobile. In the end this is not just about privacy. No, it is much bigger than that. This is about your passion, your freedom, your right TO DRIVE!

    I hope that any reader of this column would fight for their right to take his favorite car to his favorite place and see if he can take that corner just a bit faster than before.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Does anyone know if the Verizon-driven severance of “analog” OnStar systems would have any effect on the ability to enact this sort of tracking? Our 2001 Aurora has the older system – no longer useable by the consumer, even if he/she is willing to pay for it – and a few other older GM cars I’d consider owning (Intrigue, Regal GS, first-generation Aurora) also have the older system that supposedly can’t be used any longer.

    That is actually encouraging since the best way to fight these things is with low tech issues like service interruptions.

    I am not a fan of this since I see where it is going and have seen where it has been. I think there is going to be good money to be made removing the on board computers and monitoring and returning engines to regular mode. Even if they integrate the ECU into the box, another ECU could be made that replaces it. It depends on the will to thwart the authorities. England is pushing for complete tracking of ALL cars through retroactive fitting of monitoring devices. Suddenly riding a bicycle is looking better.

    At the end of all this we have the basic question of do we have the right to travel in vehicles freely or not. The lack of specific protections in the constitution from anything except searches for incriminating facts leads me to believe we’re in trouble. It won’t be the FBI, or any other three letter agency we need to worry about the most, it will be companies. They already own credit data and now comes movement throughout the country.

    Flight data recorders in cars can be a great idea, until it is used against you. Arguably this means people should not drive like A-holes in the first place but when the data is turned over to insurance agencies who are allowed to raise your rates depending on what roads you drive then we are going to have companies cherry picking customers and engorging themselves on the public.

    Older vehicles will be in favor for not having these little friends, the public will eventually catch on.

  • avatar
    timoted

    The government has the ability to gather data on you everytime you fill out a tax return, log onto the internet, apply for credit, use a telephone or get a paycheck from an employer. All of this data is easily obtained if someone has a reason to.

    Again, if you’re that concernend then the only other solution is to “unplug” from society. I do agree with you in the fact that the average person in the U.S. does lose rights on a daily basis however, I don’t feel that my rights are on the line because someone has the ability to find out where my car is or how fast it’s traveling. (That can be done with the cell phone you’re carrying) If someone is that concernend with my activities then I’ve given them a pretty good reason to. In that case, I’ll be unplugging my OnStar or driving a vehicle that doesn’t have it.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Carpages.ca Is Your “Black Box” Spying On You? contains a full discussion.

    The auto insurance cartel is rewriting policies to give insurers an unfettered right to the data.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    If unplugging OnStar is a crime, then only criminals will unplug OnStar. That is, if they are smart enough. The more competent ones probably are and will also know to buy prepaid phones under a phony name and know how to destroy the NAM and memory as well.

    So all this may do is annoy the hell out of people who don’t want the govt to further intrude and intrude at expense borne by the taxpayers.

    Gardiner:

    Even without an event recorder, it has been possible to retrieve data from some cars pre-2000 from the ABS and stability control, or so an accident investigator friend tells me. I did appreciate the even handed carpages article.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The insurance companies can’t even run a damned auction in an intelligent way. So far as OnStar and the myriad of other deviants in the marketplace… if you don’t like it, don’t use it. Plain and simple.

    Chuck your cellphones and internet, use only cash, take your surplus savings and invest it in antiques and gold, buy an RV with 100+ temporary tags, grow your own food in an empty field somewhere, and get some mild surgery done to alter your fingerprints, footprints, scars, taste in ice cream etc.

    Sorry but the only folks that need to worry about OnStar are too busy subsisting on potatoes in northern Idaho.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    The real problem, as the author pointed out, is not the technology or the government. The problem is that a large corporation collects and owns some serous data on you and they are free to do whatever they want with it.

    Given the track record of US companies when it comes to protecting and respecting the privacy and rights of US citizens, you should be concerned.

    Also, THEY, not YOU, own that data. You have no say in how it is to be used or abused.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    Stein X Leikanger wrote:

    BTW – the telecoms just got their retroactive immunity after handing all their phone records to the gummint, so no need to hold one’s breath on whether this data will be made available.

    Actually, the Senate passed a bill including telecom immunity, but the House version does not.

    Perhaps if we all call our Congress-people we can stop this particular travesty

    https://secure.eff.org/site/Advocacy?alertId=365&pg=makeACall

  • avatar

    just another reason NOT to buy GM vehicles

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I don’t have a problem with this stuff so long as:

    You can buy cars without it. You can easily enough remove it. There is no presumption of guilt for removing it.

    Privacy is virtually dead. I really don’t care so long as people who know me are not involved. If someone airs someone elses dirty laundry, then I am all for reaching into their bowel, grabbing a few intestines, and pulling them across a stage for the viewing pleasure of the public. An eye for an eye, you know.

    If the government wants to randomly listen to my calls to search for terrorists, I really don’t care. It’s only when they then use that ability to affect me that I care. If they can’t find people who are trustworthy and disinterested enough for the job, then they should not do it. When one of them steps out of line, see punishment above. Okay, but really, 7 figure settlements should just be expected for government infractions on people’s privacy.

    We have laws for inappropriate searches, and they need to be looked at from a modern perspective. I think now is a REALLY bad time to do that. Once we have a lull in the war on terror would be a more appropriate time.

    As for car recording devices, perhaps we should look into classifying a persons own recorders as protected under the 5th amendment. I don’t know if it’s really workable, but something is going to need to give somewhere.

  • avatar
    OverheadCam9000

    I admit it. I was (a small) part of the engineering team that developed OnStar.

    Our goal was to deploy a system that could electronically “babysit” the bulk of buyers of GM vehicles. Most couldn’t tell the difference between a dipstick and a broomstick, much less summon assistance when it really mattered.

    Back in the day, dialing “911″ on a brick may have connected you to a dispatch center two states away. When the dispatcher would ask, “Where are you?”, most people whose bell has been rung in a crash couldn’t tell to save their life. And if you are unconscious….

    When the “Check Engine Now” light comes on, it’s handy to have an electronic mechanic available to do a level one diagnostic on the spot. Let me know if the car is driveable or if it’s time for the tow truck. (Comments about the reliability of GM vehicles are not needed.)

    As for “OnStar’s computer knows where you were, when you were there, and how fast you went. It knows if and when you applied the brakes, if and when the air bags deployed, and what speed you were going at the time. It knows if and when your car was serviced.” This data is held in the vehicle’s on-board memory. The command post DOES NOT monitor each and every OnStar equipped vehicle all the time. (Maybe the CIA/NSA/DHS/FEMA/InterPol does, but that’s another issue) OnStar HQ only knows your whereabouts when your OnStar car phones home…

    As Lt.Col. Williams would remind us, if the Stazi/KGB/DHS/NSA etc. wants to put the finger on us, they will, OnStar or no. If they want to stop your car, they will, OnStar or no. BUT, if some lowlife perp fingers MY car for a joyride, I find it real handy if the blue suits can retrive it quickly before the losers can inflict (much) damage.

    I’m proud of OnStar. There are hundreds of people alive who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the system. Thousands of stolen cars didn’t get very far, and many car thieves are behind bars because of OnStar. Many a frightened young mother with a baby in the back seat has been comforted and reassured when OnStar sent a tow truck to fix their vehicle that had broken down in a bad part of a strange town at 1AM on a Sunday morning.
    Just like an Emergency Locator Beacon on an airplane, OnStar is your electronic “Help Me” beacon.

    Jonathan says, “The Constitution of the United States protects us from the heavy hand of government.” The Constitution does no such thing. The Constitution is just ink on paper. It is US, We The People, that put the teeth into the protections listed in the Constitution. If we collectively decide to give them up, then we get what we deserve.

  • avatar
    timoted

    OverheadCam9000 :

    Thank You

  • avatar
    shaker

    With every new technological “carrot” comes the insidious “stick”.
    The people (through govt.) have to mandate the private interests to disclose their intended and possible use of the information gathered, in a clear, non-legalese fashion.
    The benefits of On-Star are obvious; yet it is an insult that in addition to having to pay a monthly fee, that an implied additional payment of some of the individual’s civil liberties is “included” in the deal.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    FYI, Lexus Link is indeed private-label OnStar; Acura has by now dropped OnStar and Acura-Link does not have an onboard cellular modem. Mercedes and BMW get their OnStar-like services provided by ATX Technologies, an obscure Dallas company. And in the past there were several other car-makers who offered Onstar, but dropped out either through lack of demand or because GM was more closely branding OnStar with GM. And as mentioned here before, Hughes Telematics will be entering this game with Chrysler. If Chrysler is still around.

    And anyway, I’m not so sure people much value OnStar, not enough to pay for it. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a good number from GM, but I’m under the impression that most drop the subscription once they have to start paying for it. The CEO of ATX publicly claims that OnStar must be a money-losing operation.

    I think it’s funny the OnStar mostly advertises as a door-unlocking service (really). If GM made doors that had to be locked with your key, as with all my Japanese cars, that wouldn’t be a problem. $19 a month every month is an awful lot to pay for insurance against a minor inconvenience that has happened to me twice in the past 20 years (once because the door mechanism broke).

  • avatar
    timoted

    Kevin:

    If GM made doors that had to be locked with your key, as with all my Japanese cars, that wouldn’t be a problem.

    You can lock yourself out of a Japanese car just as easily without a key. Ask AAA they can tell you a different story.

  • avatar
    cRaCk hEaD aLLeY

    It’s a non-issue.
    Either:
    a) move to Mexico and buy a Nissan Tsuru or
    b) use the car as it is supposed to be used – obeying the laws and driving in a civiized manner – saving the hooliganism for the Ducati, GSX-R, Sti, Evo, Cobras, Elans and 911′s of life, preferrably in a track.

  • avatar
    L47_V8

    cRaCk hEaD aLLeY :
    February 14th, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    It’s a non-issue.
    Either:
    a) move to Mexico and buy a Nissan Tsuru or
    b) use the car as it is supposed to be used – obeying the laws and driving in a civiized manner – saving the hooliganism for the Ducati, GSX-R, Sti, Evo, Cobras, Elans and 911’s of life, preferrably in a track.

    Tough words from somebody with the username “crack head alley.”

    I’m sure you’ve never broken the speed limit in your life, to boot.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    OverheadCam9000:

    Thank you for providing a great counterbalance to the article’s points regarding the usage and intent of the OnStar service

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “But what if…

    The police are investigating a crime. They ask OnStar where your car was on a certain date and time, to corroborate an alibi.”

    If you need your alibi corroborated, then this is great. If you think you might need to make up some alibis that can’t be checked, don’t get On Star.

    “…Or what if you’re in a crash and the other guy’s attorney would like to know how fast you were driving when you ran the red light?”

    Yeah, it’s a real bummer when you can’t lie in court.

    “Would OnStar surrender the information?”

    If you understand when you purchase On Star that the info belongs to GM then you really have no expectation of privacy. If you think you might be involved in activities you don’t want the authorities to know about, don’t get On Star.

    “OnStar is required to locate the car to comply with legal requirements, including valid court orders showing probable cause in criminal investigations.”

    Don’t see a problem with this.

    “And OnStar may use gathered information to “protect the rights, property, or safety of you or others.”

    Or this.

    “Imagine the following scenario. The FBI shows up at OnStar master command and tells them your car’s been stolen by a terrorist, who may be using it to commit a crime at this very moment. Contacting the owner is out of the question; the owner may also be a terrorist. What does OnStar do? They cooperate with the FBI and give them everything they’ve got on your car. No warrant needed and no notification to you. Hell, you may not even have the service enabled. ”

    If the owner was in the car it’s hard to see why a warrant wouldn’t be required. If police have probable casue to think the owner is a terrorist and is in the car, then info given after a warrant is served doesn’t seem problematic. Even disabling the car would seem appropriate -with a warrant.

    If a suspected terrorist is using my car, and the FBI has probable cause to get a warrant, why in the world would they need to notify me? Maybe I can’t be reached. And maybe I am a terrorist too. The FBI needs an okey dokey from one terrorist before getting info on another one?

    “And the next step is even more insidious. Imagine GPS speed limiters which only allow you to go the speed limit based upon a map uploaded into your car’s navigation system. Now Sammy Hagar will only be driving 55 no matter how hard he stomps on the go pedal. This is the ultimate assault on pistonheads. The only place where driving will be fun will be on the track– if OnStar and/or the car’s manufacturer (e.g. the Japanese GT-R) let you.

    I’m not one to accept slippery slope arguments easily. We don’t have satellite linked speed governance yet. Even if it happens, what important right have you lost? If you think the Constitution protects a right to break speed laws, you need to give it another read.

    The only legitimate concern raised in this article is evesdropping on conversations. I assume On Star employees would quickly tire of most conversations, and I’d assume I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in my car so that law enforcement could only listen with a warrant.

  • avatar
    keepaustinweird

    I recently decided to get out a car payment by replacing my “new” car with an older Saab. I wound-up going with a 2000 Saab 9-3 SE that specifically did NOT come equipped with OnStar for privacy issues.

    For those who do have it in their vehicle and have privacy concerns, I agree w/ others who have said in the thread to disconnect the unit.

  • avatar
    Steve_K

    We just bought a 2008 Saturn VUE equipped with OnStar. Since we don’t do crimes I’m not concerned about the e-BigBrother, but if Hillary is elected and the GPS speed limiters go live, I will be unceremoniously disconnecting the OnStar sensors.

    Meanwhile the (non-monetary) value of my junkers is rising more quickly than hot magma through a lava tube. Kindly move over as I pass with the pedal right to the rusty metal.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    There’s no money in speed limiters. It’s all about the benjamins, baby.

  • avatar
    Skooter

    Boycott cars with OnStar? What? Are you that paranoid?
    I’m thankful to have it. I use the hands free phone. No, I have not used crash notification (thank God) or any of the other emergency services. I have used the remote door unlock and I have to admit that was pretty cool. Didn’t actually lock my keys in the car. It was just a demonstration. Instaed of buying a navigation unit, I also use their turn by turn nav. very neat! Spying? Please!!!

  • avatar
    Adonis

    If privacy is dead, it’s because it’s not being defended and vigorously fought for. Instead, it’s being given away with open arms by people like timoted. If nobody protests, well, the government will do what it wants.

    The “I’m not a terrorist, so monitor me all you want” argument is repeated, ad nauseum, everywhere. Guess what? It’s pretty easy to become a terrorist now. And once you do get called one, well, you’re a terrorist who wants to destroy America, so you don’t have any rights. Enjoy Guantanamo.

    Anyways, back on topic, if I ever got a car with OnStar it would be gone the first day. Another step down the slippery slope.

  • avatar

    Onstar has already been used to track criminals !!!!!!!!!!

    I have read court cases where a warrant was obtained to activate the mike and “bug” the car. The case which challenged this was overturned, only because it eliminated the ability of the user to use the Onstar system, not because of the bugging. It was a trespass upon the suspect’s property, as Onstar was disabled, but it was within the purview of the Search Warrant. This just needs a “backdoor” in the programming.

    I also note that my current rental car has Onstar. For a rental fleet, the ability to remotely disable a car has uses that would not apply to law enforcement or have privacy implications. Since so many cars makers use fleets to absorb “excess capacity” (poor product planning), I would think that this would also be a HUGE reason for more of this sort of system.

    The fact that a motivated person can easily disable a system such as this (disconnect antenna, short center to ground, fry transmitter) is not relevant in a world where the majority of folks know where the gas and key goes, and that’s it.

    It has already happened, and is probably happening now.

    Want to get really paranoid ? The FCC has allocated space in the microwave region for short range point to point “intelligent highway” systems. Two way comm is part of the design.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    There already have been several instances when OnStar sent its own customers to prison. For some time now, all airbag deployments in Onstar-equipped vehicles have been communicated to Onstar, which in turn has relayed the information immediately to 911 operators.

    This news item from the National District Attorneys Association website dates back from 2003 shows that they have since gone a step further, and also report incidents that don’t involve airbag deployments:

    911 Operators To Get Immediate Crash Data from OnStar

    Since 1999, GM vehicles have provided prosecutors and law enforcement officers with an increasing wealth of crash data through electronic data recorders (EDRs) and sensing & diagnostic modules in airbags (SDMs). Now, GM and OnStar are going a step further by notifying 911 operators of the SDM data moments after the crash.

    Beginning this year, OnStar plans to add Advanced Automatic Crash Notification (AACN) systems to 400,000 OnStar-equipped 2004 models. Currently, OnStar receives about 500 air bag deployment notifications per month. When an airbag is deployed, OnStar contacts 911 with the location of the vehicle. Now with AACN, OnStar will relay notifications if a car is involved in a moderate to severe front, rear or side-impact crash, regardless if whether the airbag deploys or not. In addition, OnStar will relay direction of impact and impact force.

    For drivers and passengers, this means prompt relay of location and severity of the wreck to emergency and medical personnel. For law enforcement officers, crash reconstructionists and prosecutors, this means documented evidence of crucial facts. In most investigations, SDM data is usually obtained after a court order and hauling the wreck to a dealership. Now, the information will be relayed by OnStar to 911 dispatchers instantly creating a public record through 911 recordings and flagging for investigators the need to later obtain OnStar business records.

    This New York Times article references the conviction of a Tahoe owner who was convicted of homicide as the result of a hit-and-run accident because Onstar notified police of the perpetrator’s location: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/29/technology/29car.html?ei=5007&en=2f5cd4f9ea97401e&ex=1388120400&partner=USERLAND&pagewanted=print&position=

    While I am not exactly a proponent of vehicular manslaughter or hit-and-run accidents, the idea of paying money for a car that can and will be used against me in a court of law is not appealing.

    I would never buy a vehicle that is equipped with this sort of equipment, and if forced to, I would go out of my way to disable it. At the very least, I don’t want a corporation collecting this data for marketing purposes and enhancing whatever profiles that they are already maintaining about us and our habits.

  • avatar
    Skooter

    “While I am not exactly a proponent of vehicular manslaughter or hit-and-run accidents, the idea of paying money for a car that can and will be used against me in a court of law is not appealing.”

    And if it save you or a loved one’s life?…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    And if it save you or a loved one’s life?

    Benjamin Franklin (anybody remember him?) had a few succinct words to offer along those lines:

    Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

    I suspect that the Founders would be gravely disappointed in some of the thoughts expressed on this thread.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “The “I’m not a terrorist, so monitor me all you want” argument is repeated, ad nauseum, everywhere. Guess what? It’s pretty easy to become a terrorist now. And once you do get called one, well, you’re a terrorist who wants to destroy America, so you don’t have any rights. Enjoy Guantanamo.”

    Oh c’mon. I don’t like the Bush admin, and I appreciate a bit of rhetorical flourish, but really, how likely is it that you or I would be labeled a terrorist and sent to Gitmo?

    I’m a motorist, and 93% of the other people out there on the roads with me are inatentive at best. Please monitor me and when one of the idiots crashes into me, please call an ambulance for me.

    “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    “I suspect that the Founders would be gravely disappointed in some of the thoughts expressed on this thread.”

    I suspect they wouldn’t. These are good arguments against the patriot act, but not such good arguments against an entirely voluntary system (you don’t have to buy a GM car) which has as it’s cheif purpose, notifying emergency services when needed, or simply unlocking your doors for you. (agree completely the redeigned door locks solve the problem)

    What essential liberty is being given up? The liberty to cause accidents and then flee?

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    It would seem to me that there is a fine line on this thing, and that Onstar is currently on the appropriate side.

    1. You can disable it. The point that most people don’t know how doesn’t really diminish this. If Big Brother got outta hand, guys would be offering this service at every street corner. That very fact works against the government, just like the right to have an unregistered fire arm. The true value of the 2nd Amendment is that any potential oppressor knows he will never be safe.

    2. GM is not the government. People are signing up by choice.

    3. If Onstar acted inappropriately they could get sued easier than the Feds. That is a good check on inappropriate use.

    4. If the government gets a proper search warrant, then no appropriate liberty was lost. All Onstar did was save them resources. Crossing the line would involve the feds searching the Onstar database for everyone who was close to a scene of a crime. That could get ugly. But, if they did that, less people would sign up, and more people would disconnect.

    IMO, the pro privacy folks would better serve the cause by demanding built in safe guards (easy on off switch, memory clearance device, etc.) or laws to prevent misuse (5th amendment ties, illegal search rules, etc.)

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    I like Landcrusher’s point #2 above. If you don’t like/want OnStar, don’t buy cars with it or similar animals.

    I’m actually somewhat hopeful regarding this type of monitoring. Widespread information / knowledge about vehicle behavior and speed may make for more sensible laws (and enforcement) in the future.

    On the other hand, if this monitoring is to be used against people, the data needs to be protected against malicious editing. And before anyone accuses me of being an X-Files conspiracy wacko, consider this:

    Where there’s potentially tens of thousand$$$ in liability at stake (or a jail term), there will be HUGE incentives to edit/wipe a car’s black box data. (Or, perhaps, wirelessly edit the data of other cars at the accident scene).

    Unfortunately, I have as much faith in GM doing adequate data protection as I do in 70′s GM diesels…

  • avatar
    OverheadCam9000

    To timoted and areitu,
    You are welcome. At least somebody on this board thinks OnStar is a good thing.

    Unfortunately, Kevin is closer to the truth. Re-up rates for OnStar are very low, with most customers not seeing any worth in the system.
    Toyota was very smart, in that their market research indicated only very high net worth individuals would want (and use) an OnStar system. Hence, their version (LexusLink) is only available on the high end Lexi and always as an option. They have a higher take and re-up rate vs. OnStar, but not enough to keep it going.

    Rumor has it LexusLink won’t be in the ’09 and beyond Lexi, due to mediocre return on investment.

    The key problem with OnStar systems is the subscription funding model. 99% of the objections about OnStar is the monthly payment. “Why isn’t it just bundled in with the price of the car?” “Why not just have crash notification only?”

    That would require OnStar to then have to invest the funds received from the car sale to generate enough dividends and interest to pay all the operators at OnStar HQ. For a long time. This is an area where Rick Wagoner shines. He did the math and….that dog won’t hunt.

  • avatar

    it is just another way for someone to track you :{

  • avatar
    Gregzilla

    anyone who doubts the cops can and will subpoena data check this out….

    http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/south/epaper/2008/03/19/0319mischief.html


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