Posted in Rants on May 15th, 2012 by Ed

On Monday the Senate passed a bill, expected to be passed through the House and rubber-stamped by the President, to mandate Electronic Data Recorders – EDRs or "black boxes" – in all new cars sold in the U.S. beginning in 2015. Be sure to stock up on 2014 cars, which are sure to skyrocket in value among survivalists and the internet's legion of libertarian commandos.

I'm not one to laugh at privacy / 4th Amendment concerns very often, and such things should generally be taken seriously. There is a curious tendency for Patriotic types to obsess over the loss of individual freedoms only when there is a Democrat in office – It was all "If you haven't done anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about!" from 2000 to 2008 – but for the most part I assume they are sincere if a bit paranoid. I suppose I could get more worked up about it myself if not for reality (75% of cars already have an EDR or EDR-like device, and the law mostly affects the format of the data already being collected) or the fact that I've long since abandoned any illusions of privacy when modern technology is involved. It's a war that was never really fought and, short of living-off-the-grid type strategies for opting out of the world, we've already lost.

There are plenty of people who will hear about this law and assume that The Government is going to be tracking your location 24-7. Aside from the misplaced anger (this is more about information-grabbing by insurers, not the state) there's the little problem that your smartphone is probably already doing this. And if it isn't, it's certainly capable of being used for that purpose. Ditto those neat GPS units that are fast becoming standard features in new cars, which are connected to a Department of Defense satellite network and could presumably be used to harvest copious data from your vehicle. Outside of your car, we already live with the reality of Google, Facebook, and all of our favorite internet tubes are treating us like cows to be milked for data that will be sold to advertisers. And we compound the problem by providing copious information (Account numbers, SSN, passwords, credit cards, etc.) in the course of banking, paying bills, shopping, buying insurance, and everything else online. That data's all secure, right?

I can't say I'm happy about the presence of another electronic data harvesting device in my life, but I can't be alone in getting somewhat numb to it. If someone – the NSA, State Farm, Google, the Illuminati, cabals of Jewish bankers – wants to collect information about my whereabouts they're perfectly capable of doing so already. Even if you ditch the iPhone, things like DARPA's terrifying Total Information Awareness project, which uses city-sized networks of cameras to track an individual's location based solely on gait recognition. So yeah, the technology to keep constant tabs on you already exists and we're going to have enough trouble fighting the big stuff in the coming years – CCTV systems, for example – so there's no point in wasting our time freaking out about things that are blown out of proportion and ultimately irrelevant.