Don’t Worry; It’s For Your Own Good

I’ll believe that statement coming from the government right about the time that they convince me that “committees of public safety” have anything to do with the public’s safety.

The feds want to require all new vehicles sold after September, 2014 to have a black box, an “event data recorder,” installed by the manufacturer.  We have to presume that they’ll be forbidden to include an operator over-ride.

We are told these recorders will measure things like throttle position, number of passengers, speed, seat belt usage, braking, etc.  They don’t mention steering wheel position but since that’s something measurable you have to assume that would be on the list.  We’re told that recording and transmitting this data — possibly via remote link — is supposed to increase automotive safety.  Really?

Given the number of accidents that are caused by operator error, expressed as a percentage of overall accidents, what precisely about vehicle design, which is the only thing that can be changed by the manufacturer, is going to smarten up the driver?  They can already simulate perfectly head-on collisions at any speed they choose, off-set collisions, t-bone collisions, rear-end collisions, roll-overs of any particular length and launch speed.  In these simulations they can with remarkably advanced test dummies measure all manner of physical forces to which the occupants are exposed.  They can measure all these things much, much more comprehensively and precisely than they ever will be able to using these data boxes.  We’re going to have the boxes “trigger” during, say, an evasive maneuver.  Since the principle stress point of evasive maneuvering (which they can also replicate and measure precisely in tightly controlled environments) is the contact between the tire and the road surface, and half of that equation is the quality and character of the road surface, these black boxes are going to be missing half the necessary data to make an intelligent evaluation of their collected information.

The long and short is that I simply do not accept that the physics of automobile operation are of such a nature that these recorders will be of any material assistance in improving automotive design.  Where they’ll come in jolly handy is in defending bogus lawsuits alleging things like “sudden vehicle acceleration” (see P. J. O’Rourke on the subject).  They’ll also be a gold-mine of revenue for the manufacturers to sell to insurance companies and credit ratings agencies (persistently risky behavior is not a good credit risk).  That’s something that can be regulated as between the manufacturer and its customers.

My particular concern is that they will also prove very helpful to a government intent of surreptitiously monitoring its citizens.

The government routinely subpoenas cell phone and landline records.  It can obtain the location data from any cell phone out there.  The government at least can tap into any telephone call, anywhere.  It is in the process of establishing an enormous center the purpose of which will be to monitor every e-mail that crosses a U.S. server, and to parse it for . . . well, we don’t know what they’re looking for.  It can and does obtain credit card transaction histories.  Do not tell me that remotely-accessible vehicle data recorder information will not be equally routinely accessed, and used.  Certain administrations have a habit of — inadvertently, I’m sure — leaking confidential information regarding its enemies to people who know how to use it.

In The Lives of Others, the Stasi at least had physically to bug the guy’s apartment, and then physically station a live agent up in the attic with headphones.  That need alone puts some limit on the ability to monitor and therefore tyrannize a population.  With the ability to squash 64 gigabytes or more onto a thumb drive, and storage available by the terabyte that can fit into the palm of your hand, where is the technical limitation?  These data recorders are supposed to “trigger” only during certain events?  Right; I believe that.  A chip the size of my little finger nail could record several hours’ trip worth of data, and then be remotely accessed, the data transferred, and the memory dumped and ready for re-use.  By people unknown to me.  With Bluetooth technology now available on even lower-end cars, how hard would it be to include in the data collection software a voice recorder?

You tell me that manufacturers will not be told that either they build in the ability to record indefinitely and on remote command, and disclose to the government the protocols necessary to do it, or they can expect the IRS and the SEC to audit them, their directors, their officers, their secretaries, and the guy who runs the lunch counter into bankruptcy.  Don’t think that will happen?  It’s already happened once.  That’s how the Chrysler secured creditors were “convinced” to give in to Dear Leader’s theft of their collateral.  Their CEOs were told that not only their companies but they personally and everyone who worked in their offices — everyone — would be ruined by audits.  The pernicious thing about such goings-on is that such a directive will not appear anywhere in the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations.  Congress sure isn’t going to be told.  Such paper trail as does exist will not even be in the NHTSA but in some other agency.  The NHTSA may not even know it’s being done.  Maybe the DOJ, which just wrapped up an illegal gun-running operation, will do it.  Maybe the NSA or the CIA, or even the Pentagon, which runs the clandestine center from which Dear Leader’s “disposition matrix” is implemented, will be the point-man.

 I’m just waiting for someone to tell me that, “It’s for the children.”

Here is where you can find out how to contact your Congressional delegation and demand that they strangle this monster in its cradle.

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