Big Brother and your car. Do you feel any safer now?

I was annoyed to read this report.

In closed-door meetings last March, U.S. transportation regulators and others grappled with questions about whether police should have the power to disable self-driving cars and whether an automatic alert that a robo-taxi had been in a wreck could violate an occupant’s privacy, a report released on Tuesday showed.

. . .

Many participants in the meetings “agreed that it is a question of when, not if, there is a massive cyber security attack targeting” autonomous vehicles and said “planning exercises are needed to prepare for and mitigate a large-scale, potentially multimodal cyber security attack,” according to the report.

Law enforcement officials expressed interest in being able to interact with, direct, and potentially control AVs during emergencies, the report said.

However, the same pathways that would allow police to stop a self-driving car could be exploited by hackers or terrorists, the meeting participants said.

“At the end of the day, policymakers likely need to answer 10 to 15 key questions,” Derek Kan, the Transportation Department’s undersecretary for policy, said in March, according to the summary.

“These range from things like, how do you integrate with public safety officials? Should we require the exchange of data? What are our requirements around privacy or cyber security? And how do we address concerns from the disability and elderly communities?”

. . .

The Transportation Department is expected to release updated autonomous vehicle guidance later this summer that could address some of the issues raised during the meetings.

There’s more at the link.

Did you notice anything about that series of meetings?  You guessed it.  It was all bureaucrats and manufacturers.  Where were the voices of citizens like you and I?  Deafening in their silence, I guess.

We’re about to have these rules and regulations imposed on us, whether we like it or not.  They’ll be designed to give manufacturers clarity, to give bureaucrats yet more mechanisms by which to govern and frustrate us, and to give law enforcement yet more powers over us during our everyday activities.  We won’t be asked whether or not we approve of such measures.  It’s yet another sign of how far down the slippery slope we’ve slid since our Constitution was drawn up.  Nowadays, laws masquerade as regulations, and they don’t have to be specifically debated in or passed by Congress at all.  The Founding Fathers would not have approved.

Note, in particular, the implications of such regulations for our personal security.  Consider these scenarios:

  1. A dangerous criminal tries to make a getaway in an unknown vehicle.  Cops immediately disable all vehicles within a one- or two-mile radius of the crime scene, to give themselves time to look for him and stop him getting away.  However, in doing so, they ensure that he remains a threat to everyone living nearby.  What’s more, any vehicle that’s on an urgent mission – taking a sick child to hospital, transporting an urgently-needed shipment to a business waiting for it, and so on – is going to be caught up in the “freeze”.  The consequences may be very bad indeed . . . but the bureaucrats won’t care about that.  It’s not their problem, after all.
  2. A major weather event (e.g. a hurricane, a storm front bringing the probability of tornadoes, etc.) is approaching your area.  Like any sensible person, you’re prepared to “get out of Dodge” as soon as your family has gathered at their prearranged rendezvous point.  However, local authorities arbitrarily decide that the roads are already too busy, and they want to stop them getting any busier:  so they disable all vehicles that aren’t already in motion, preventing them from joining the exodus.  What’s your family going to do?
  3. During social unrest, authorities want to prevent others coming in from other areas to join the rioters.  They decide to shut down all vehicles within a given distance of the disturbance.  You’re passing through on the interstate, without a care in the world, when suddenly your vehicle switches itself off and coasts to a halt – just in time for you to see a mob running onto the freeway, heading in your direction.  You’ve just been dumped into a potentially life-threatening situation, because some bureaucrat thought that would be a good idea.
  4. Cops want to do a sobriety check on a busy road one Friday night.  Instead of waving cars over, they issue computerized instructions that command every vehicle to slow down and come to a stop at their designated road block position;  and they refuse to release your vehicle until they’re good and ready, whether or not you’ve been drinking.  Detention without cause?  Fourth AmendmentWhat Fourth Amendment?

Remember, too, that these regulations won’t only affect self-driving cars.  The technology already exists to disable any vehicle remotely.  GM’s OnStar service was the first to offer it (AFAIK, you can’t buy a GM vehicle today without OnStar being built in, even if it’s not activated), and others have followed.  If your vehicle was made within the last half-dozen years or so, it may have that “feature” built into it, whether you wanted it or not.  There’s no technical reason why authorities can’t order car manufacturers to activate such services on demand, so that they can shut down traffic.  Does that make you feel any more comfortable?  No, I thought it wouldn’t . . .

As Eric Peters accurately pointed out:

… the automated future means that instead of being able to just jump in your car and go where you please, when you please and how you please – you’ll be carted around as they please, when they please and how they please.

If they please.

If we let them.

Big Brother is getting too damned big brother-ish.  I suppose it’s the inevitable consequence of a society where people are regarded, and treated, as mere numbers, digits in a computer system, a broad mass of humanity rather than individuals who matter as such.  I find it demeaning, undignified and immensely frustrating.  If I find myself trapped because of such bureaucratic actions, you may be sure I’m going to take steps to express my frustration, both during and after the event.

Yes, I’m old-fashioned and curmudgeonly.  So sue me.



  1. "any vehicle that's on an urgent mission – taking a sick child to hospital, transporting an urgently-needed shipment to a business waiting for it, and so on – is going to be caught up in the "freeze". "

    Well…. except for vehicles bearing Officials bound for Important Meetings. These would be allocated Exempt Lanes so that governance can proceed.

    So glad we won whatever war it was last century that ensured our living in a free society.

  2. Peter, some GM products do not have OnStar. Usually these are commercial vans or 'municipal-type' pickup trucks.

    As to OnStar's capabilities: whether you pay for the subscription or not, GM can turn on the overhead mikes in ANY OnStar equipped vehicle (later than 2004 model, IIRC) and listen in to everything that is said in the car.

    Lovely, no?

  3. Unless you have turned it on as a convenience to yourself
    there is a solution.

    Those Onstar and the like are Cell phones and cell phoness are radios.
    So all that has to be done is to remove/cut the antenna, radios work poorly without one. Like all radio gadgets it has antenna, they may be hidden but really with the internet how long before that little box gets found? And wrapped in aluminum foil!


  4. Simple answer to ALL of this: Until such time as hardened AND unalterable laws are in place and enforceable, and enforced, absolutely forbidding the involuntary-takeover of vehicle control(s) by anyone – including any kind of "Gubmint Officials/Agents (cops, bureaucrats, anyone & everyone – NO exceptions!)" – refuse to have anything to do with "self-driving"/auto-driving vehicles of ANY kind!

    Giving-over any even-small measure of independent control of a vehicle of any kind which YOU are using is, ipso facto converting it – in part, or in whole – to a "public transit device". To wit: A vehicle that YOU.NO.LONGER.CONTROL! – it's just that simple, people: If I own it – I control it – NO ONE ELSE, unless I tun over the driver's seat to them. Any "auto-driving" vehicle – even one where you can supposedly take-back manual control at your own discretion – in the absence of such laws abaolutely forbidding any such involuntary-takeover of any small part of control, or even surveillance of the vehicle's interior, is no longer YOUR vehicle, and yours alone…it becomes a "partly-/wholly-owned subsidiary of The Gubmint"…THEY now own – and control – its usage!

    If I want to allow someone else to control where and when and how the vehicle goes – in any slightest part beyond the following of ordinary traffic rules and regulations…I'll call a cab – or take a bus or a train – or hitch a ride with a friend. I control where and when and how my vehicle goes…100% of the time it's in motion with me at the controls. That's called "driving" – and it's NOT supposed to be a "shared activity" – particularly if it may be involuntarily "shared" with any sort of public "agency" of any kind.

  5. Pokey is 17 now and still getting down the roads very nicely. They can't touch him. My dad's car is now over 30.

    We are not like my grandfather who bought a new car every 2 or 3 years. He was an old fashioned doctor who made house calls deep into the country. He wanted something that worked.

    My car is German made, my dad's made by finest kind japanese.

  6. What makes anyone think a government will allow someone to operate a controllable vehicle on the public roads? At some point, you can be sure they will mandate that condition. They need to be disabused of that sort of thinking.

  7. As Dad29 noted, the overhead mikes are always on, and recordings from them have already been used in court. NOTE: this is for "inactivated" OnStar systems. Of course, what they mean is that you aren't paying a monthly fee to be spied on. The gov't officials have the use of it without it being activated.

    Also, OnStar tracks your vehicle's position in real-time, and was going to sell that info to 3rd parties (insurance companies), until protest stopped that. Want to bet that the info still goes to the 3rd parties under the covers? Progressive offers rates based on being tracked, and Colorado (twice) has floated trial balloons where you would be taxed based upon how many miles you traveled, and possibly where you traveled (congestion travel). OnStar or a similar GPS system forms the basis for the proposals.

    It isn't just GM (OnStar). Ford's VP of marketing said, "they can track your every movement and know when you're speeding," and after the blowback, said the next day, "but we wouldn't do that."

    Riiiight. I believe you as much as I believe Hillary.

    I've got a old car which doesn't have this equipment, and keep it repaired so I won't have to get a new car with the spy equipment installed.

  8. I've noticed that when out on the freeway, when I shift my 16 year old Chevy into 5th gear, it signals the car in front of me, regardless of year make or model, to immediately hit the brakes and reduce its speed to below that which would allow me to use 5th gear. I'm pretty sure this feature was installed at the behest of the oil companies who will sell more gas if I'm kept in the lower gears.

    It's a plot I tell ya!

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