How to guard against
No matter which side of the "convenience vs.
privacy" debate you come down on, rest assured further technological
advances will continue to stir the pot of controversy. But also,
don't forget there are things you can do to protect yourself.
Today, auto gizmos such as global positioning systems
and easy-pass toll tags primarily are controlled by consumers themselves.
But proposals are cropping up in California, Oregon and other state
legislatures to use this technology for generating highway upkeep
money and more.
Say hello to the mother of Big Brother, who could
well be arriving soon, according to privacy experts who fear legislation
could lead to the advent of scary things such as:
- Requiring every car to have a GPS system,
so the state can track road use and tax accordingly.
- Hooking up all cars to an electronic system,
so speeding between point A and point B would result in an automatic
"There's potential for these mandatory systems
tracking everybody," says Jay Stanley, communications director
for the technology and liberty program of the American
Civil Liberties Union.
Taking steps to help ensure your car is a private
place may soon be just as important as gassing up for the trip.
If you want to hit the open road -- or just zip up to the corner
convenience store -- without concern about being watched, here's
how to go about it:
Scan for "bugs."
Look in your car's manual or check in with the manufacturer
to find out whether you've got a black box. This safety enhancement
device, also known as an event data recorder or a crash data
recorder, is found in most newer cars (California requires event
data recorders be disclosed in car owner's manuals). Privacy
proponents point out that, because a black box monitors speed,
seat belt use and other driver behaviors before a crash, attorneys
have started to use its data in lawsuits.
Shop wisely for auto
gadgets. Is there a way for you to
turn off the technology? Does the manufacturer have a privacy
policy? These are two questions Larry Ponemon, chairman of the
privacy and ethics think tank Ponemon
Institute, suggests asking.
Rent with caution.
Rental car agreements may come with privacy strings attached.
Cross a state line, speed or otherwise stray from that contract,
and your wallet may be emptier than you bargained for. "Ask
just what sort of monitoring is being done and how it could
affect the bill," advises Beth Givens, director of the
"These kinds of privacy questions are often not solvable
on an individual level," says Stanley. Givens suggests
getting involved in the public policy process by contacting
legislators. Good policy can help ensure that consumers know
what's in their cars and can disable devices that do exist,
and also make sure that data collected by these devices aren't
available to use without the owner's permission or a court order.
And Stanley adds, "With good, robust privacy policies,
we can enjoy the benefits of amazing new devices like GPS without
having to worry about the dark side."
Melissa Ezarik is a freelance
writer based in Connecticut.
-- Posted: Feb. 15, 2005