To Enforce Emissions Standards, State Governments Are Looking To Ride Shotgun In Constituents' Vehicles
from the every-turn-you-make,-every-time-you-brake,-I'll-be-watching-you dept
Californians may find their cars being converted to government informants at some point in the future, thanks to the state's push to curb emissions. As always, a trip to the land of Unintended Consequences begins at the Port of Good Intentions. Cleaner air and vehicles will come at a cost, and that cost may include an extensive collection of driving data. (via Cato)
The On Board Diagnostics computer systems on all of our late-model cars now collect a wide range of information mostly related to a car’s emissions. When something is amiss, your dashboard flashes with a “check engine” light and you head to a repair shop to fix it. The goal is to assure cars aren’t polluting the air.Right now, CARB is only collecting this sort of information in aggregate, and then only after the vehicle has been on the road for at least six years. This data is compiled during state-required emissions checks. So far, so good, and CARB states on its website that it isn't (yet) pursuing the collection of this data singularly and in an ongoing fashion by using transponders.
But now the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is proposing regulations(for a May board hearing) requiring manufacturers to significantly expand the kind of information on-board computer software collects about our driving habits.
The software could track miles per gallon, driving distances, how often one stops and starts the car, and how fast one drives. Newer cars already tell us most of this information on those nifty trip computers in the dashboard. The difference, of course, is the regulations would require our cars to also tell government officials the information.
“(N)o such program has been adopted by ARB nor have any decisions been made by ARB to pursue such an approach in California.”But other states are pushing for even more stringent emissions standards than California's, and the only way to enforce these appears to be the use of a tracking device. Washington wants a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. Oregon has mandated a 20% reduction in per capita urban driving. To hit these goals, manufacturers will need to track additional data about vehicle usage and make it accessible to state governments.
The data parameters listed in CARB's proposal are extensive (p. 42). And it starts with this statement:
Track MPG/CO2 in the real-worldIn practical terms, this means logging of miles driven, fuel used, stops and starts, engine run time, and air conditioner usage. Certainly this data will help manufacturers build more efficient vehicles, but it really has no business being in the government's hands.
Not just enable easier data logging but actually provide historical data
If it does, the abuse of this data is almost guaranteed. If this was being tracked solely by manufacturers for use in development, it would be one thing. But if it's being used to track down drivers who aren't driving quite as efficiently as the local government believes they should be, that's quite another. Say goodbye for aggregate data about classes of vehicles and hello to onboard surveillance.
Steven Greenhut points out in his article that the government already has plenty of vehicle tracking options at its disposal, including red light cameras and toll roads that require a government-supplied transponder to be accessed. The latter has already been used to "control" driving by denying toll lane access to speeders ratted out by the required transponders.
With the government tracking this information (and requiring manufacturers to collect it and provide access), law enforcement will no longer need to seek warrants for GPS usage. Instead, they'll just be able to ask another government agency for driving records or demand them from manufacturers under the Third Party Doctrine. And on top of everything else, it will be argued that traveling in your vehicle has no expectation of privacy, even if most drivers will be unaware that their vehicle is tracking all sorts of information and handing it over to the government.
This data collection -- when tied to emissions restrictions -- could have another unintended side effect: taking away citizens' freedom to choose where they live.
Of course, for many it really isn’t about greenhouse gas emissions. Mobility allows (or, as anti-auto groups would say, forces) people to living in low-density “sprawl” where they can escape taxation by cities eager to subsidize stadiums, convention centers, and light-rail lines. All they have to do is ramp down people’s monthly driving rations–something like a cap-and-trade system that steadily reduces the caps–and suburbanites will eventually find that they have to move back to the cities.Certainly no one expects driving to be a "private" activity. But they also don't expect their government to have an active interest in their personal comings and goings, especially for indefinite periods of time. Gathering this info and handing over control to governments is going to encourage a certain amount of misuse. It's inevitable. These governments need to find another way to attack the emissions problem -- one that doesn't involve turning peoples' vehicles into personal diaries government employees can flip through at their discretion.