Big Brother Really is Watching

We think we live in a free society. Do we really?

Black box data showed that Eric Gauthier was driving at 157 kilometres an hour (98 mph) just seconds before he struck and killed Yacine Zinet. The trial marked the first time that car data recorders have been accepted as evidence in a Canadian courtroom.

Some find it disturbing that the technology used to convict Gauthier is tame in terms of what is out there to help us, it’s said, but available for use against us.

“There is a widening and yawning gap between the surveillance that is actually happening and people’s understanding for the capacity for surveillance. People just have no clue, and I’m describing intelligent people,” says Stephanie Perrin, president of Digital Discretion Inc. in Montreal.

“At the very broad level, we have a society that thinks it’s democratic and absolutely has no concept of what the technology does.”

Call me uninformed, but I wasn’t aware that cars were now equipped with “black boxes”.

One thing that has occurred to me is the potential for abuse in General Motors’ OnStar technology. My wife and two of her sisters were in my sister-in-law’s Cadillac a couple of months back. Sharon’s sister decided to show off the neat OnStar service by asking for directions.

The gentleman at OnStar was courteous and helpful, and then he closed by saying, “You three ladies have a good day.”

My wife was alarmed. No one had mentioned how many passengers were in the car, nor whether they were man, woman, or child. How did Mr. OnStar know?

A better question: Who else is listening?

The FBI and other police agencies may not eavesdrop on conversations inside automobiles equipped with OnStar or similar dashboard computing systems, a federal appeals court ruled.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday that the FBI is not legally entitled to remotely activate the system and secretly use it to snoop on passengers, because doing so would render it inoperable during an emergency.

In a split 2-1 ruling, the majority wrote that “the company could not assist the FBI without disabling the system in the monitored car” and said a district judge was wrong to have granted the FBI its request for surreptitious monitoring.

This ruling was handed down last December. But note the salient point: The court ruled against the FBI not on the basis of privacy issues, but because snooping via a car’s onboard OnStar system “would render it inoperable during an emergency.”

What do you bet they’ve figured a way around that little obstacle?

On a similar note, England is considering an RFID-chipped “e-Plate” for vehicles, a license tag that can be identified with a remote scanner in real time, moving or stationary, and in all weather conditions. If it’s adopted, the government would theoretically know where nearly every car in the country is at any given moment.

I’m sure people will be sold on the security benefits, a means of finding a stolen car or tracking vehicles that might be involved in suspicious or illegal activity. The price, of course, is that the government can track your every move.

This is freedom?

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