Al's Views, Personal Thoughts


The Continued Making Of A Police State
30 December 2003

By Al Colombo, GKO publisher

Have you ever heard the old saying, "Just because we can do a thing is no reason why we ought to do it"? No, you say? Well, perhaps that's because I made it up. However, I believe there is an enormous amount of truth to this statement, especially where it comes to the various tracking technologies already on the street as well as those yet to come. The following is an excerpt from a New York Times story about OnStar, a cellular- and GPS (Global Positioning System)-based service that can be of great benefit to automobile owners who have it. On the other hand, as you shall see, there are risks involved with its use, for just as it can be used for good, the potential is certainly there for bad.

"Last year, Curt Dunnam bought a Chevrolet Blazer with one of the most popular new features in high-end cars: the OnStar personal security system. The heavily advertised communications and tracking feature is used nationwide by more than two million drivers, who simply push a button to connect, via a built-in cellphone, to a member of the OnStar staff.

"...for Mr. Dunnam, the more he learned about his car's security features, the less secure he felt. A research support specialist at Cornell University, he is concerned about privacy. He has enough technical knowledge to worry that someone else - say, law enforcement officers, or even hackers - could listen in on his phone calls, or gain control over his automotive systems without his knowledge or consent. Any gadget that can track a carjacker, he reasons, can just as readily be used to track him. "While I don't believe G.M. intentionally designed this system to facilitate Orwellian activities, they sure have made it easy," he said."

This Car Can Talk. What It Says May Cause Concern
John Schwartz, New York Times
Click Here

To give you my personal opinion, GPS is a two-edged sword. On one hand it has great potential for good. On the other, it has great potential for digging and prying into peoples' lives. In the case of the gent who was accused of killing his family, it was a good thing. Obviously, if LE (Law Enforcement) knew he was within 10 miles of the Mexican border, you can bet they were tracking him via his car's onboard GPS system.

Unfortunately, these tools are only as good from an ethical standpoint as the officers and agents who use it. Where most officers wouldn't waste their time prying into just anyone's life, a small minority might. I would worry more about political enemies and their utilization of this tool for a variety of less than sound purposes.

In the case of LE, I would like to think that most of the officers out there would utilize it only when necessary. I really think the question that ought to be asked is, what safeguards are there that would assure the public that such technologies would only be used ONLY when necessary? What about court orders... does it require a court order to access OnStar information? Just how easy is it for the average police officer, a political, or the average civi to gain access??

I also understand that some makes of cars have black box GPS systems in them. Ford I understand aims to do this with the brunt, if not all of their new vehicles by 2004. Do you know much about these black-box units and what you might be able to do with them as law enforcement? Well, they apparently collect information from a vehicle, such as speed, brake history, seatbelts, wheel slippage, and sudden turns--about two minutes worth.

Insurance companies and automakers are at the forefront of this issue because a black box can help them to ascertain what "really" took place those few moments before a crash. This way they know exactly what the driver was doing moments before and at the time of the crash. They also know what the various subsystems within the car were doing at the same time.

I also understand that some airbag systems have a GPS-data collection system that, besides collecting valuable driver/car data, also can transmit the coordinates of the car at the time of the crash direct to the manufacturer. This is accomplished through the GPS system when an airbag deploys.

In closing, when you go to find a new or used car, what should you do when the one you're eying has an OnStar system in it and the salesman is working overtime to sell it to you by explaining all the neat, helpful, labor-saving things it can do for you? Well, my personal opinion is that you should do NOTHING at all--in other words, don't buy it.

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Allan B. Colombo

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