Cars, technology and privacy

It looks as if the electronics in modern vehicles may soon be snooping on us to an ever greater extent.  We spoke about this a couple of months ago.  Now Eric Peters Autos warns:

V2V is the next technological Great Leap Forward – the critical element necessary to erect a nationwide grid of completely self-driving, autonomous cars. And also broadcasting and recording cars. V2V-enabled cars could  transmit  and record every detail about your trip, such as how fast you’re driving at all times (not just a “snapshot”) as well as how rapidly you accelerate and how rapidly you brake, your direction – and whether you’re in motion or stationary – to a central database. Or to whomever happens to be listening in. The potential for abuse is staggering; the diminution of our already almost nonexistent private space a certainty.

. . .

But there’s a fly in the soup – from NHTSA’s perspective: Older cars do not have the technological wherewithal to “talk” to other cars, much less be part of an autonomous grid. Nor are they set up for continuous monitoring.

And control.

What will happen to them?

In this era of Submit & Obey, of the immutable and unchallengeable Safety Cult, I expect what will happen is that a few years after V2V becomes mandatory in new cars, there will be talk – followed by action – requiring that all cars be V2v enabled or be relegated to the museum.

Or the crusher.

It will be argued that cars without V2V are unsafe – because they are independent of the grid, controlled by their drivers, not by Big Brother.

It may not even be done formally, via a law or regulation. The insurance mafia could simply add a surcharge to the policies of cars without V2V. They do this already for policies issued – that is, forced upon us – for high-performance cars (and motorcycles) making them unaffordable for most drivers and riders under 35. The same justification could be used to shove pre-V2V vehicles into the proverbial dustbin of history.

Crazy talk? The insurance mafia has been aggressively pushing in-car monitoring of policyholders’ driving habits for several years now (see here). It is something made technologically cheap and easy to do via the data recorders and onboard diagnostics systems that virtually all new cars have already. The insurance mafia has not insisted – yet – that everyone’s car be monitored. In part because the concept of monitoring still bothers enough Americans to keep it at bay. But when the government mandates it, via V2V, the insurance mafia will have what it needs to force-feed monitoring by way of surcharges for those who resist by not buying a new car ready-made with V2V GPS transmitting/recording capability.

V2V is a surge – an escalation – against older cars still under the control of their owners, whose driving is not subject to real-time, 24-7 monitoring and pre-emption.

Yes, pre-emption.

As already mentioned, V2V – integrated with automatic braking/steering and so on – will enable not just crash avoidance but also driver usurpation. Your Future Car could just as easily be turned off – remotely – as it is turned on by you. This is something “law enforcement” is champing at the bit for. Ostensibly, it would mean the end of the high-speed chase. And this is how it will be sold. Once again, safety. But it will also mean your car – all our cars – could be rendered inert/immobile at any time, for any reason. And in a police state – which is what America has become, by any reasonable standard – that’s scary.

. . .

V2V will also facilitate tax-by-mile and “congestion pricing.” The former would replace anonymous, pay-as-you-go motor fuels taxes with in-car monitoring of how many miles you’ve driven, your debit account dunned accordingly (and automatically). The latter would hit you with variable-rate dunning depending on when and where you drive. Such a system is already in place in the UK. If you want to drive during certain times (rush hour) or to a certain place, you are charged a special (higher) fee as an incentive to not drive at those times or to those places.

. . .

NHTSA claims we ought not to worry; that V2V will never be abused, that our comings and goings will not be monitored, controlled and taxed.  “NHTSA has no plans to modify the current V2V system design in a way that would enable the government or private entities to track individual motor vehicles,” a NHTSA spokesman said.

No one will force out us out of cars that don’t have V2V capability.

In another time, we might well have trusted such claims. To trust such claims today is to ask too much.

Of us – by them.

The atrocities already committed against our right to privacy, to anonymity, to freedom of movement and freedom from arbitrary, unreasonable searches are too well-known to trust yet another “just trust us” from government officials.

There’s more at the link.

I hope the author is wrong about the future of V2V . . . but I fear he’s not.  It may turn out to be yet another manifestation of Big Brother.  The time may come when we look back on the carefree days of unmonitored driving and weep for the freedom we’ve lost.

For myself, the thought of buying an older pickup with low-technology electronics and fixing it up, rather than buying a modern vehicle with its ‘black box’ privacy-killing potential, is looking more and more attractive.  At least Big Brother can’t short out a carburetor!



  1. I'd expect a backlash. People in America really like cars, and really like speeding even more.

    Hell, way too many people want a classic, and even more want a cheap used car.

    And there's another industry that would oppose this. I'm sure that the people making sports cars, and those selling gas wouldn't be too fond of this either.

  2. the fly in the soup, you will see a hack that tells the snoop exactly what you want it to see.
    car nuts are willing to spend bucks to fix their cars, and bucks make things happen.

  3. Scary, and not the 'first' time something like this has been tried… Back in the mid-90s California wanted to crush all pre-1975 cars to reduce smog. And Bruce is also right, there are a LOT of folks willing to spend large $$ on their old cars and other things…

  4. My next car will be one of my old model A Fords which I grew up working on. I am going to put that back on the road as I live out in the country and don't do a whole lot of driving. IF they can put their snooper on the A they can have at it but like health care, they will eventually get car insurance out of the reach of most people. I suspect that like the Roman empire, our government will extend itself too far and will not be able to micromanage the world and will collapse.

  5. Technically, the monitoring surcharge is already in place. Progressive will give you a substantial "discount" if you agree to have them sit on your shoulder.

    I think that, in the short term, how many of this type of policy Progressive sells (has been selling) will be a clear indication of public sentiment.

    I'm afraid that in the long run, people can get used to anything. Within a generation, it will seem normal.

  6. One simple question – in the event of an accident with a "smart" car of this sort, who is at fault? Who pays? If you are still responsible, even though you are not totally "in control," there will be backlash from many quarters.

  7. A friend's husband is a long haul truck driver. He says when he got into the field, he was almost totally free to do as he wanted, as long as he got his cargo to destination. It was the most free occupation he could find.

    Over the years, the laws and regulations on the profession have gotten more and more constrictive to the point where if the trucks were autonomous, they'd prefer it. Can't drive too many hours, can't drive too fast, can't drive too slow, and if something goes wrong at the truck stop that makes lunch late, too bad. His job is to drive his designated hours over the assigned route at the speed limit.

    His freedom is all but gone.

    About 10 years ago, there was a story about "smart highways" with embedded magnets or other hardware for cars to sense while driving. A group of researchers drove down the LA freeway at highway speed without touching controls, the six cars in a pack spaced about four feet apart. The researchers said that in a place with a busy highway system like that, adding the hardware to the road was $1 Million per mile, but adding a lane or equivalent structure to handle the same amount of traffic was $11 M per mile. With numbers like that, it's inevitable that smart roads and smart cars take over driving.

    "It is at first denied that any radical new plan exists;
    it is then conceded that it exists but ministers swear blind that it is not even on the political agenda;
    it is then noted that it might well be on the agenda but is not a serious proposition;
    it is later conceded that it is a serious proposition but that it will never be implemented;
    after that it is acknowledged that it will be implemented but in such a diluted form
    that it will make no difference to the lives of ordinary people;
    at some point it is finally recognised that it has made such a difference,
    but it was always known that it would and voters were told so from the outset."
    — Times editorial, published on August 28, 2002

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