Psst! Hey, buddy! Do you want to have a complete travel/movement database for your automobile-using populace but don’t have the scratch for a a bunch of high-tech, privacy-destroying surveillance copcars? Brazil has an idea for you!
Over the recent years, Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) has come into increased use. What has the American Civil Liberties Union up in arms is that the data are stored and can be used to compile behavioral profiles on innocent civilians. The state of Maryland seems to be in the lead when it comes to centralized aggregation and storage of ALPR data, “which raises significant privacy concerns,” says the ACLU. (Read More…)
The US Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case that will set the legal boundaries for police GPS surveillance of automobiles. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that police were wrong to spend a month tracking the every move of Antoine Jones, who was arrested on October 24, 2005 for drug possession (view opinion). A tracking device had been attached to Jones’s Jeep without judicial approval. The high court judges engaged in heated debate about the rights of motorists in connection with the Fourth Amendment.
Motorists searched during a traffic stop may find their iPhone data electronically grabbed by police in ways that would not be possible or acceptable with written material. Some police departments, including the Michigan State Police, are equipped with a mobile forensics device able to extract images, videos, text messages and emails from smartphones. In some cases, the device is able to bypass password protection. Several states have been reluctant to curtail law enforcement access to this information.
With TTAC’s editorial team rendezvoused in Georgia in preparation for our Southern Tour, it seems the state of Tennesse has been warned of the coming invasion of Niedermeyers, Langs, Schmitts and Baruths. According to Nashville’s News Channel 5 [via Robert Farago's Truth About Guns], the Volunteer State has, er, volunteered to become the first state to bring a Transportation Security Administration presence to its highways and byways. Says Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons,
Where is a terrorist more apt to be found? Not these days on an airplane more likely on the interstate
What evidence is there, besides the imminent presence of some particularly depraved automotive bloggers, for this purported increase in terrorist activity on Tennessee’s interstates? Who knows? Not the point. And there’s no “opt-out” lane on the freeway…
Though the idea that there is a “war on cars” appeals to certain segments of society, there’s little evidence for any such effort. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that there’s a “war on drivers” on, and it’s being led by the automotive industry. On the one hand, cars are being ever-more laden with distracting gizmos and toys, while simultaneously, companies are testing systems that minimize the need for drivers at all. Though Google’s autonomous cars get a lot of media play in this country, another system is moving Europe towards a similar endgame. Known as “Car-To-X,” the system allows cars to swap information like speed and direction, not just with each other but with traffic lights and traffic data collectors. The idea is to avoid traffic and crashes, by warning drivers of oncoming traffic in a left-hand turn scenario, for example. Because who wants to use their eyes to make sure they’re safe when technology can do it for you?
According to Autobild, the first public German test of the system will begin next spring, with 120 vehicles taking part. GM is currently testing a similar system. If all goes according to plan, systems like this and Google’s autonomous technology will fulfill GM’s prediction that autonomous vehicles will be a reality by 2020, and the war on driving will be won. Or lost, depending on your perspective.
The California Court of Appeal on September 26 approved a police officer’s rifling through the cell phone belonging to someone who had just been pulled over for a traffic violation.
Reid Nottoli was pulled over on December 6, 2009 just before 2am as he was taking a female friend home. Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriff Steven Ryan said Nottoli’s silver Acura TL had been speeding on Highway 1. After speaking with Nottoli on the side of the road, Ryan suspected the 25-year-old was under the influence of a stimulant drug. His license was also expired, so Ryan said he would impound the vehicle. Nottoli asked if his car could stay parked on the side of the road, which was not heavily traveled and out of the way. Ryan refused so that he could conduct an “inventory” search prior to the towing.
Although the US Supreme Court is expected to settle the issue of GPS tracking of motorists soon, a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals, Fifth District ruled 2-1 earlier this month against the warrantless use of the technology. The majority’s decision was likely designed to influence the deliberations of the higher courts. On November 8, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the GPS case US v. Jones. The Ohio Supreme Court is also considering Ohio v. Johnson in which the Twelfth District appellate court upheld warrantless spying.
The present case began on January 14, 2010, when Franklin County Sheriff’s Department Corporal Richard Minerd’s investigation of a burglary brought him to a white Honda Civic in an apartment complex. Minerd slapped a battery-powered GPS tracking unit under the bumper that allowed real-time tracking of the vehicle’s location, speed and direction of travel. Minerd did not seek a search warrant before acting.
A powerful group of political figures issued a report last week condemning law enforcement’s unchecked use of high-tech surveillance system. The Constitution Project is troubled in particular by the ease with which a person’s movements can be tracked 24 hours a day. The conservative-leaning group insisted on the need to bring the law back in line with fundamental constitutional principles.
“Private sector technologies that enable constant monitoring of individuals are moving inexorably forward, and as they are developed, law enforcement agencies inevitably seek to use these new surveillance tools,” the report stated. “These include not only GPS devices and cell phones, but also laptop and notebook computers, location based services like OnStar, and technologies yet to be developed. Use of these surveillance devices presents serious challenges in terms of compliance with Fourth Amendment protections. While these technologies enhance the ability of law enforcement agents to accomplish their important work, it is also critical that we carry forward Fourth Amendment safeguards into the Digital Age.” (Read More…)
Under attack from privacy advocates and US Senators, Onstar will be dropping plans to automatically track vehicles that are not subscribed to its service, and will make post-cancellation tracking an opt-in option, rather than opt-out. A GM statement reads:
DETROIT – OnStar announced today it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers’ vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.
OnStar recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled – unless the customer asked for it to be shut off.
“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said. “This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers’ hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers.”
If OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in, Marshall said. And then OnStar would honor customers’ preferences about how data from that connection is treated.
Maintaining the data connection would have allowed OnStar to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after canceling their service. It also would have helped in planning future services, Marshall said.
“We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused,” Marshall said.
Editor’s note: When I wrote about OnStar’s latest round of privacy concerns, I didn’t realize that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law had voiced his own concerns in a letter published just the day before. Here is the letter, as published at Senator Franken’s website. OnStar has already said it will respond to specifically to the concerns of Senators Franken and Coons.
Ms. Linda Marshall, President
400 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48265
Dear Ms. Marshall:
We are writing to express our serious concern with OnStar’s announcement earlier this week that it would continue to track the GPS locations of its customers’ vehicles even if those customers have affirmatively ended their contractual plans with OnStar. In this email announcement, OnStar informs its current and former subscribers that it reserves the right to track their locations “for any purpose, at any time.” It appears that the only way to stop this tracking is to actually call OnStar and request that the data connection between OnStar and the vehicle be terminated; this service is not available online. OnStar further reserves the right to share or sell location data with “credit card processors,” “data management companies,” OnStar’s “affiliates,” or “any third party” provided that OnStar is satisfied that the data cannot be traced back to individual customers. See OnStar, Privacy Statement: Effective as of December 2011. In a nutshell, OnStar is telling its current and former customers that it can track their location anywhere, anytime—even if they cancel their subscriptions—and then give or sell that information to anyone as long as OnStar deems it safe to do so.
Concerns over privacy have haunted GM’s OnStar business for as long as it’s been around, and responses like this video have become something of an annual routine for OnStar’s executives. The latest round of furor involves changes to OnStar’s policies, which the New York Times describes thusly
The first regards what happens when a customer cancels the service. Until now, when OnStar service stopped, so did the vehicle’s two-way communications system. As of Dec. 1, however, that will not necessarily be the case. Vehicles of owners who no longer subscribe could still be monitored via the system’s still-active two-way cellular link.
The second policy change concerns the potential use of the data collected by OnStar, which includes information like the vehicle’s speed and location, current odometer reading, driver seat-belt use and air-bag deployment. Under the new terms, OnStar reserves the right to share that information with other companies and organizations, even data culled from motorists who no longer subscribe to the service but who have left the two-way communications connection open.
Of course, OnStar says GM customers can opt out of the service, but it’s making the case that by only sharing anonymous data, it can limit meaningful privacy concerns. But OnStar doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and as it continues to sell Americans on the notion that security is worth sacrificing some sense of privacy for, it will find itself increasingly pulled into a national debate.
Big Brother’s doing a bit more than just watching you these days.
Remember the last time you got your driver’s license renewed? You may recall the procedure for taking your picture was a bit different than it used to be.
Instead of the usual “smile” you might have been told to do no such thing — very specifically. To be as expressionless as possible. And that the system seemed more “high-tech” than it used to be. Instead of receiving your new license on-site, it would be mailed to you in a week or so — from some unspecified “secure location,” perhaps.
You may have been told or seen signs or been given literature explaining that the new way of taking your picture is part of new security measures designed to make it harder for people to manufacture fake IDs (since a driver’s license is the de facto national ID in this country).
But they probably didn’t mention that the pictures — digitized images, actually — were to be downloaded into a new database that uses facial recognition software to “scan” for (are you surprised?) Terrorists — among other things.
Only it’s ordinary Americans who are being terrorized.
GM’s Onstar division has long raised privacy concerns among the professionally paranoid, but now it’s putting all that observational power into the hands of consumers, with a pilot program called “Family Link.” Described in GM’s presser as “a new optional service that will explore ways subscribers can stay connected to their loved ones,” the service includes
- Vehicle Locate: The subscriber can log on to the Family Link website to view a map with the vehicle’s exact location at any time.
- Vehicle Location Alert: Subscribers can set up email or text message notifications to let them know the location of their loved one’s vehicle. They can choose the day, time and frequency of the alerts.
But that’s not all: if the pilot proves that consumers are willing to pay for the right to surveil their loved ones,
Future considerations for the pilot include Speed Alert, Boundary Alert and Arrival/Departure Alert.
Forget Big Brother… with this system, you can be Big Daddy, in the center of your own little family-sized panopticon. From making sure the kids stay out of trouble (“Say, son, what were you doing in downtown Detroit last night?”) to checking up on your loving spouse (“Honey, why did you say you were going to the gym, when you just parked for an hour at the Slee-Zee Snooze Motel?”), it’s how today’s on-the-go families foster an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. Because why let the government have all the voyeuristic fun?
Do we really need one?
Opinions vary widely. In recent years, there have been two legislative efforts to convert the ubiquitous state driver license into a national ID card, making it the essential “show us your papers” document in order to navigate in, around, and through our society.
At the other end of the spectrum, a current movement to do away with the driver license altogether may seem impractical, but it is gathering momentum in regions around the U.S.
Which should it be – a federally-mandated document that uniquely identifies its holder and is necessary to provide the right to drive, to fly, and to participate in various governmental programs, or an extraneous card that serves no useful purpose in a society where individuals have the right to travel without restrictions?
Let’s examine these two diametrically opposed positions: