Every Move You Make
At Cnet News, Declan McCullagh exposes a "frightening proposal to track Americans wherever they drive."
The U.S. Department of Transportation has been handing millions of dollars to state governments for GPS-tracking pilot projects designed to track vehicles wherever they go. So far, Washington state and Oregon have received fat federal checks to figure out how to levy these "mileage-based road user fees."
Now electronic tracking and taxing may be coming to a DMV near you. The Office of Transportation Policy Studies, part of the Federal Highway Administration, is about to announce another round of grants totaling some $11 million. A spokeswoman on Friday said the office is "shooting for the end of the year" for the announcement, and more money is expected for GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking efforts.
Mr. McCullagh further states:
The problem, though, is that no privacy protections exist. No restrictions prevent police from continually monitoring, without a court order, the whereabouts of every vehicle on the road.
No rule prohibits that massive database of GPS trails from being subpoenaed by curious divorce attorneys, or handed to insurance companies that might raise rates for someone who spent too much time at a neighborhood bar. No policy bans police from automatically sending out speeding tickets based on what the GPS data say.
The Fourth Amendment provides no protection. The U.S. Supreme Court said in two cases, U.S. v. Knotts and U.S. v. Karo, that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they're driving on a public street.
(entire article here, link via Wolfesblog)
Anyone who values privacy should find this proposal to be unacceptable, but privacy doesn't seem to matter to most Americans these days. As Mr. Mccullagh notes:
One study prepared for the Transportation Department predicts a PR success. "Less than 7 percent of the respondents expressed concerns about recording their vehicle's movements," it says.
Privacy advocates seeking to turn public opinion against this proposal should frame it not only as an invasion of privacy, but primarily as a breach of security. The existence of a government record of all of your car's movements would raise the possibility that a stalker could get access to this record, either by hacking into the DMV's computers or bribing an unscrupulous DMV employee. People who have no problem with this proposal should ask themselves whether they want to leave themselves vulnerable to stalkers who know exactly where they go, and when.
Framing privacy in terms of security is nothing new. The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment reminds us that security doesn't just mean security from criminals and terrorists. It also means security from one's own government.