When You Drive Alone, You Drive With Big Brother

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London drivers may soon be able to get a discount on traffic congestion charges by installing a device that picks up the local speed limit via satellite and then prevents the car from exceeding it. Not sure how bad the system itself sounds—if people actually had to adhere to speed limits, it would probably generate pressure to raise them to a sane level. But if (as seems likely) this "feature" were to become mandatory, wouldn't it amount to requiring the installation of a tracking device on every car? Of course, plenty of people are already choosing to allow that via dashboard mapscreens in higher-end new cars, but the potential for abuse if there's one ubiquitous system is probably worth mulling. (Hat Tip: Sploid)

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  1. This is slightly off-topic, but did anybody see the “Penn and Teller’s Bullshit” episode about the surveillance society a couple of weeks ago? They did an experiment, where they pretended to be a branch of Homeland Security, and hired some people to do surveillance on the home of a supposed terrorist. Then, they hired some actors to go to the house next door and basically play out a soft-porn fantasy. Most of the “security” guys ignored the terrorist’s house to zoom in on the sex acts next door.

    The episode was meant to make the comforting point “Don’t worry; even if there’s enough surveillance to keep an eye on every single person in the country, you’ll probably be the unnoticed needle in the haystack.” But I found it extremely disturbing–hell, I don’t care if the government keeps under surveillance folks they have reason to believe are killers, but I damn well DO care if the government’s going to watch me having sex with my boyfriend, or dance around the house in my underwear, or even pick dead skin off my feet, or any of the million other things people do which are NOT illegal, but nonetheless we want to keep private.

    This London thing will sprad, of course, and the excuse will be “safety and security,” but in reaity it’ll just be a way for cops with prurient interests to get their voyeuristic jollies.

  2. “The London thing will SPREAD.”

  3. It sounds unsafe. There could be instances where avoiding an accident means accelerating beyond the speed limit briefly. It doesn’t sound like a good idea to remove that from the driver’s discretion.

  4. Ah. Now I read the article and see that it says “The system can be overridden to avoid a hazard.” Ok. But still, would you have to take time to remember to override it and to override it? Overriding it might not be an automatic reflex.

  5. This reminds me of an idea from long ago. Slightly modifying the concept, offer an incentive-based program. Certainly insurance companies would provide considerably lower rates if it could be proven that you did not speed (Avoiding an accident could be done, you might have to lose your incentive or file a report). Likely, that number would correlate, at least somewhat, with the costs associated with not having this device (speeding).
    It looks to me like a pretty good, libertarian concept. What am I missing?
    This would also probably have profound effects on automobile design.

  6. but I damn well DO care if the government’s going to watch me…

    From what it reads like around here, it’s other Hit and Run readers, not the gov’t, that you need to worry about!

  7. Coach-
    I can’t speak for others, but my main complaint is that while this might START as a voluntary program, it won’t remain so for long. And if the cops are so terrified that I might exceed the speed limit, I’d rather have a modified engine that can’t go too fast, than a car with a locator device on it.

  8. Regulator-
    Even if the Hit and Run readers saw me, I wouldn’t be too concerned; how many of my civil liberties can they violate when they’ve only got one hand free?

  9. Touche, Jennifer, touche!

    You know your audience well.

  10. Jennifer in da House!!

    As for tracking current high-end cars with mapscreens, most of them are gps and cell enabled systems. While OnStar can track you via the cell system, it is possible to deactivate that “feature” and only have it available when you ask for it (though this would take an electronics tech). Like all computers, portions can be disabled if you really want to.

    Or you could just get the gps mapping system and skip the OnStar part. You couldn’t call and get your doors unlocked, but you couldn’t be tracked either.

  11. Thanks, guys. But seriously, did anybody see that episode? I was completely befuddled; I mean, the whole security prank was indeed funny, but WHY were Penn and Teller viewing it as something reassuring? “Relax, everybody! The government’s not going to keep an eye on the terrorists who might actually endanger America; they’re going to watch you fuck a guy or zoom in on your chest when you’re walking down the street!”

    Seriously. . .did Penn break for the first time ever his “I-don’t-use-drugs” rule? What the HELL was that all about?

  12. Jennifer –

    Love the episode and many more. Especially like the line (paraphrase), “Sure, you can get someone to actually pay attention to their DHS job instead of the soft-core porn setup, He just has to be from Kenya!”

    On the article – or a sidebar – someone was shot and killed and their minivan stolen today, and OnStar refused to give police the vehicle’s location without either the deadman’s authority, or a court order. They finally gave in, after the van had been ditched and the killer gone.

    Not making any specific claims by this, just throwing it out there.

  13. Does speeding cause more highway fatalities?

    How many deaths would be caused by not being able to speed?

    How much does the system cost what are the opportunity costs for this?

    How easy will the system be for drivers to turn off?

    I would wage a coke that no one involved in this is asking these questions. 48 hours and a decent researcher could prove that this project is idiotic.

    I don’t get Penn and Teller. The only knowledge I have of them is from a reason article or two and a few Babylon five guest spots…

  14. “This is slightly off-topic, but did anybody see the “Penn and Teller’s Bullshit” episode about the surveillance society a couple of weeks ago?”

    In related, but still off topic, news did anyone else notice that the upcoming episode they were going to show about people’s tendency to see holy images in oil stains and sandwiches seems wasn’t shown. In fact, the episode’s preview was totally erased from Showtime’s WWW site. Have P&T been censored?

  15. You can see the surveillance clip that Jennifer’s talking about here. (It’s part of a segment on the PATRIOT Act, and was actually posted here at H&R in June.)

    (That was the Windows Media version; here is the Real Audio version.

  16. Akira–
    I don’t know about censorship, but I know that their episode about Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Gandhi is not available “On Demand;” it’s the only episode this season that isn’t there.

    Stevo, SixSigma–
    Did you get the same feeling from the surveillance episode as I did? Seriously–they’re trying to make the reassuring point, “Don’t worry, the government can’t keep an eye on all of us because were are too numerous,” and yet the fact that government agents, being human, will likely ignore terrorist activity to focus on the private behaviors of attractive women is supposed to be REASSURING? Had that been the first episode I ever saw, I too would say “I really don’t get Penn and Teller.”

  17. Jennifer, I agree, except at some point they also said, “Despite all the hysteria about terrorism, we’re not really on the verge of all being killed by terrorists, and deep down, every one of us knows that” — or words to that effect. So they downplay both the threat from government surveillance and the threat from actual terrorists.

    PS: Not that I agree with their latter point about terrorism not being a bigger threat now than it used to be. Although I do suspect most of the visible government anti-terrorism activity domestically is not the way to fight it. A dispersed threat should be dealt with a dispersed defense — an alert, informed and — if they choose to be — armed civilian populace.

  18. Stevo-
    Yes, I got the part about downplaying the threat from terrorism. I just don’t see how it’s supposed to be reassuring. If the point of the experiment had been, “Look here, guys, all this increased surveillance won’t protect us from threats because the watchers will be too busy watching other things,” then I would have been all for it. But what I got from that episode was, “Don’t worry about the thought that the government will be watching you 24/7, because there will be too many distractions.” Maybe my view of this is colored because I’ve had too many sleazy cops try to hit on me in the past.

  19. Maybe my view of this is colored because I’ve had too many sleazy cops try to hit on me in the past.

    Not in the Rodney King sense, I hope.

  20. No, nothing Rodneyish about it.

  21. Well, small favors, I guess. Sorry to hear that, though.

    Hey! Jennifer, I was about to ask you, “So what are the top five cop pickup lines?” But that just reminded me — many years ago, I wrote a song (never unpublished) called “Love Cop.” It may still be on my hard drive.

    Yes! Found it! Imagine this as being sung by a sleazy Las Vegas lounge singer…

    Love Cop

    He’s the Love Cop, and the search is on
    He’s got a search warrant, and he’ll search ’til dawn
    He’ll even search through your drawers — while you’ve still got ’em on!
    He’s the Love Cop, so watch out, bad girls!

    . Working “under cover” is what he does best
    . So they made him detective, of course
    . Now even the hookers he busts every night
    . Say that he’s the best dick on the force

    Now he’s on your case, and the chase is on
    He might use his handcuffs or three-foot baton
    (But don’t worry, there will be a camcorder on)
    He’s the Love Cop, so watch out, bad girls!

    . If you’re guilty of breaking and entering hearts
    . Or maybe you’ve stolen a few
    . If he pulls you over for “failure to yield”
    . Think of what . . . might be held . . . against yoooou!

    He’s the Looooove Cop-
    (“Assume the position!”)
    He’s the Looooove Cop-
    (“So . . . Where’s the fire?”)
    He’s the Looooove Cop-
    (“Now, blow on this tube . . .”)

    He’s the Love Cop, so watch out, bad girls!

    (big finish, with horns after each line)
    He’s the Looooove Cop (braap-a-da-dap!)
    So waaaaa-aaaatch out (braap-a-da-dap!)
    Baaaa-aaad . . . girrrrrrrrrrlssssssss
    (end with flourish-drum roll, horns and piano doodley-doo)

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