Thursday, July 21, 2005
Welcome To Jail, This Is OnStar.
You hear the commercials... baby locked in car or adult locked out of car. OnStar is a great way to connect to an operator that can access the functions of your car at anytime. It commonly being used for getting directions to specific locations and recovery of a car if it is stolen. But, what a lot of people may not know is that this perceived public service is actually a privacy issue.
Former Clark County Commissioner Lance Malone and another influential local politician were being followed awhile back in an FBI investigation. The two sat for awhile in Malone's Hummer discussing 'business.' And with just a call to OnStar, a few features were disabled at an office allowing the agents to listen and record the entire conversation. The information gathered at the time would later be used to convict Malone and strip club owner Michael Galardi in a California court. (A second trial is being readied in Nevada.)
This wasn't been the first use of this item for information gathering. In November 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco decided that the government may be able to convert some of the systems into roaming in-car wiretaps.
Having the OnStar system technology in your car has become a bigger liability than originally thought. Sure, we like to think that our car is the safest place you can be other than home. Heck, Gary Numan felt the same when writing his hit "Cars": "Here in my car, I feel safest of all. I can lock all my doors. It's the only way to live, in cars." Possibly worse than privacy is if you depend on the system for roadside assistance and information as those are the two functions that are disabled to make your conversations public. I wonder what happens when the emergency service button doesn't work during an accident when you need it the most. Would a death change a viewpoint or grant a new appeal? Are people paying for this service warned about any of these things? Why do I feel like cameras going into public bathrooms are coming next?