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The Surveillance And Privacy Concerns Of The Infrastructure Bill's Impaired Driving Sensors

from the good-intentions... dept

There is no doubt that many folks trying to come up with ways to reduce impaired driving and making the roads safer have the best of intentions. And yet, hidden within those intentions can linger some pretty dangerous consequences. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the giant infrastructure bill (that will apparently be negotiated forever) includes a mandate that automakers would eventually need to build in technology that monitors whether or not drivers are impaired. It’s buried deep in the bill (see page 1066), but the key bit is:

to ensure the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology must be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles

The details note that the new technology should “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” This isn’t the kind of keylock breathalyzer test things that some people have been required to install to operate a car. This is “passive” monitoring. That means sensors and cameras. And, as Julian Sanchez highlights, that raises a ton of surveillance and privacy concerns:

This amounts to mandating a sophisticated set of sensors be installed in a space where many Americans spend huge amounts of time. (And not just commuting?many people live in vehicles, whether out of choice or necessity, at least part of the time.) A narrowly-tailored sensor that only detects blood alcohol content, if designed to immediately discard any readings below the legal threshold, might not sound worryingly invasive. But the mandate extends to monitoring for other forms of “impairment,” which can require more intrusive types of sensors. One such system being developed by Nissan includes a “camera atop the instrument cluster” which “looks for facial cues signaling the driver is inebriated” while “the vehicle itself looks for driving patterns suggesting an impaired driver.” In other words, one form this mandatory technology is likely to take involves pre-installed video surveillance with facial recognition capabilities. (Law enforcement, no doubt, will eagerly think of many other applications for a ubiquitous system of cameras installed in private spaces?cameras which, by design, the vehicle owner will necessarily be unable to deactivate.)

It’s possible that there are versions of anti?impaired driving technology that could address these practical and privacy concerns. But that only underscores how little sense it makes for Congress to delegate authority for a regulatory mandate at a point when the technology being mandated remains largely hypothetical. Even in the absence of a mandate, there’s likely to be some market for these technologies: Some drivers would embrace as a safety feature a system that warns them if they’ve imbibed more than they realize, or are starting to swerve on the road. They’d doubtless also be popular in contexts where the owner of a vehicle is entrusting it to another driver: Rental cars, corporate cars, commercial cab or trucking fleets. This is not, in other words, technology that will go undeveloped and untested unless it is made universally mandatory.

That makes it seem wildly premature to empower an executive branch official to mandate what is, essentially, surveillance technology in all automobiles when the precise form of the technology remains uncertain, and it’s impossible to concretely debate the merits of specific systems. This sort of delegation lets legislators take credit for Doing Something to promote automotive safety and reduce the unacceptable annual death toll that results from drunk and impaired driving, without having to defend or be held accountable for any of the details of what Something entails. The bill doesn’t, after all, say “we’re requiring a camera that you can’t shut off be installed in everyone’s automobile”?that’s just one possible way to “passively monitor the performance of a driver.” They can reap the accolades now, and insist “that’s not what we intended” if the result is a mandatory surveillance network, or cars that stop working because you’ve used too much hand sanitizer or a pinhole aperture in the dash got blocked.

But, let’s take this even further. Sanchez notes in a parenthetical aside that law enforcement will come up with “many other applications” of this technology, but that deserves to be called out, because knowing what we know about how law enforcement embraces and “extends” every bit of surveillance technology they can get their hands on, this isn’t some pie in the sky hypothetical. We all know exactly how this will play out.

Police are going to demand access to the facial recognition and other data collected by these systems, and they’ll claim they need to have access to it for “public safety” reasons. Others are also likely to seek access to it as well. It’s going to be an insurance goldmine.

And that’s leaving aside the question of whether or not the technology will even work. The “passive” nature of it raises questions about how the system will know whether it’s the driver or passengers who may be impaired. The potential to use facial recognition may raise questions about people who have facial tics or other features that the system might deem to be a sign of impairment. And, as Sanchez also notes, there’s simply no clear reason why this technology needs to be government mandated and standard in every new vehicle.

Yes, preventing impaired driving is a worthy goal. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of installing massive new surveillance infrastructure in every new car.

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Comments on “The Surveillance And Privacy Concerns Of The Infrastructure Bill's Impaired Driving Sensors”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Although I am being facetious above, how about sensors for random rage, for being distracted by something on your mind, by the need to impress your friends, to impress a random girl on the street, to stand up for your superiority against a random driver in the next lane… There are dozens of psychological things that can cause a huge amount of damage to actual living people, and to use "impairment" to require mandatory sensors is ludicrous and won’t solve things to the point that these people think it will.

Its just more mission creep from people who think they know best, but actually know little of anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why such Distrust of Congress

Why be so suspicious of the legislative output of our democratically elected representaives in the US Congress ?

Don’t you trust these esteemed people to do the right thing for vehicle safety, while fully respecting the 4th Amendment and Constitution ?

If you don’t really trust our top government body of Congressional decision makers, then you have much bigger problems than this little surveillance issue.

What are the actual boundaries of Federal control of the American people (if any).
Nobody here knows. That’s the core problem.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In my state if the car is over 15 years old it can use an antique plate to bypass emissions but that requires limited mileage usage.

But that car will never be required to meet any emissions standards that weren’t in place when it was made. At least I have never heard of any state that does that. And no single vehicle has ever had an efficiency standard; those are at the corporate level. The idea that any regulation of cars (whether emissions, efficiency, or safety) has ever been used to curtail the sale of used vehicles is not supported by any facts I’m aware of.

Maybe the restrictions on used car markets

What restrictions are you referring to?

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

California has toyed with the No-new-registration of gas vehicles as part of multiple all-zero-emissions bills, every time they come up.
The bills haven’t passed yet. But with redistricting… it could.
If you can’t register it, you won’t buy it.
Once it passes, other blue states will follow.
Now I doubt Minnesota or Illinois and the like, (blue in the cities only) would fall that way with the majority of the states’ income dependent on keeping “red” jobs and their majority blue population residing in a tiny percentage of land area. It’s unlikely to pass in such states.

But the disruptive methods would spread eventually.

And with the UN potentially looking at further regulations…?


So there’s little doubt such bans and tinkering in regulation is at least being considered.

And as long as we’re looking at auto:
13002 adds a fee for mileage
And just as the camera system is of concern, this should be too! Not only will it record miles traveled, but location? Yep, that won’t be abused right?
There is no reason this funding (transport funding) couldn’t be done with less or non invasive methods.
Raising national fuel taxes. Instituting a federal toll system for federal and NDH roadways.
But it’s just another spy tool in a vehicle.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"California has toyed with the No-new-registration of gas vehicles as part of multiple all-zero-emissions bills, every time they come up. "

Generally speaking in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions you need something to replace existing emitters with. Which, when it concerns cars, either means enough EV at affordable price ranges so everyone can have one, along with charging stations enough to replace gas stations and a power grid which won’t just burn like a roman candle when trying to supply those stations.

Not even the greenest nation in europe can hack this, let alone the US where "infrastructure" across the board is largely made of vintage hopes and prayers.

And California especially…I’m reminded of Bill Maher’s "New Rule: Losing to China" where he brings up the impossibility to build public transportation at scale in that state – or anywhere else stateside.

Without the necessary infrastructure…who, in the US, can live without a car, go EV, or afford the newer models catering to ultra-low emission standards? Certainly not the 95% of the citizenry without significant fiscal resources.

"So there’s little doubt such bans and tinkering in regulation is at least being considered."

Considered, yes. But in the nation of "No we can’t" where courtesy of arch-conservatives progress and development has been shackled hand and foot for decades, any such consideration is going to get dropped the second the powers-that-be realize there’s no way to implement such a bill without saddling the voter base with expenditures half of them or more can’t meet and still put food on the table.

Oh, if only taxes had been spent on…hrm, infrastructure projects like under FDR and Eisenhower, maybe the US wouldn’t be in a lose-lose situation like this where even if every last american realized the truthful urgency of climate change they’d still be facing the choice between them going through the grinder today or their kids going through it tomorrow.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Once it passes, other blue states will follow.

I’ll start worrying about it if it ever passes in California. I’m not holding my breath.

There is no reason this funding (transport funding) couldn’t be done with less or non invasive methods.

Agreed, and from I’ve heard there a huge degree of public opposition to vehicle tracking. I think that might be even more unpopular than raising the gas tax, and politicians are terrified of doing that. So I’m not too concerned about that one either.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, before this becomes an argument over my wording;

Maybe they don’t intend. Maybe it’s a consequence of (what I consider) stupidity in not looking at the results of what is planned. Maybe the restrictions on used car markets is intended to be not change sales and use at all.

Intent or not — it’s what will happen to a good set of vehicles. Regular use will become limited use for a large
Number of cars and light trucks.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

This makes about as much sense as the every car needs to have sensors & alert people if they leave a child in the backseat.

Maybe if we let a buncha people busted with 3 oz of weed out of prison, we’d have room for the people who drunk drive over & over & over & over that nothing seems to stop them from putting themselves & others in danger but being locked up might sober them up.

Anonymous Coward says:

If one looks at videos of people trying to use the autopilot mode in tesla cars to drive safely it seems a really bad time to try and bring in a whole new software surveillance system in cars eg the whole system of software in cars seems to be in the equivalent
of a 56k modem and of course auto factory’s are closing down because of a shortage of processors

I can see problems with old people trying to drive cars being stuck as their reaction times are different from the average 2o year old driver
Imagine being stuck in a car in bad weather or freezing snowstorms it seems like bad idea to have a kill switch there are already problems with
People being distracted by large video screens in cars

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Privacy Concerns Aside ...

What people seem to be overlooking is that we already have technology to detect impaired drivers. It’s sometimes required to be installed for people who have been caught driving while impaired. We know how to do it, we know how well it works, and it would make more sense to use that group of people as test subjects for "improved" systems rather than the general public.

Realistically, cameras could probably detect erratic driving with much less privacy concern. Except the cops would be inclined to combine that with license-plate readers and use it only for revenue and parallel construction.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Line item bills

What we need, and never will get, is a law passed to end line item bills!

We have two huge bills here that are a disaster. Following “stimulus” bills that were disasters.

What this does is force politicians to make the same choices the population makes when you get someone like Trump elected based on two or three issues alone.
Or someone like Biden elected based on one issue alone (not Trump).

Congress will vote for the bill based on the one thing they like in it. The rest be damned.

These mega bills need to be stopped.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

It's for the intelligence agencies

Our government is just so tired of people going wherever they damn well please without permission or surveillance. "A camera in everyone’s car" is just what they need as a way to know who is going where, and when.

A little facial identification software, and a quick (automated) query to DHS and you have a perfect pre-approval system for travel.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's a fancy way to explain punishing people for privacy

They’ve had many excuses to put cameras in cars before, but something like "hands-off telephony" doesn’t explain why the car WILL NOT MOVE IF YOU HIDE YOUR FACE. So yes, this is absolutely about spying on people, in the most outrageous way.

I will eat my hat if Peter Thiel does not turn out to be controlling the sale of Every. Single. Last. Camera. In. Every. Single. Last. Car.

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