Stop the government from spying on your driving

Put a Lock on Your Car’s Black Box

There are more ways than ever before for motorists to be tracked. And to have their driving data recorded without their knowledge or consent. Some forms of privacy risk while you’re behind the wheel are unavoidable given the technology that’s out there and our ends-justifies-the-means legal system. Still, you can take steps to put yourself on the road to relatively greater privacy than you have now.

There are so many new privacy threats out there – some mandated by government, some created by technology. For example, red light cameras, license plate scanners, and even facial recognition cameras are tracking your vehicle and the people in it. Automated toll booths that collect visual data about every vehicle the passes through (often linked to personal financial data in toll payment accounts) are among the biggest privacy hazards.

Private high-tech companies operating in this area are reaping a windfall. For example, Vigilant Solutions tracks the movements of millions of vehicles. Vigilant Solutions “boasts 2 billion entries in its nationwide database, with 70 million additional license plate photographs being added each month,” according to A Journal of the Politics of Driving (December 29, 2014). It added that “passengers can also be tracked if they hitch a ride with a friend and are photographed by a camera aimed at the front of the car. The Livermore, California-based firm recently announced expanded integration of facial recognition technology…”

Another privacy threat comes from the widespread availability of GPS tracking devices. It’s possible for a police investigator, a private investigator, or a stalker to attach a GPS device to your vehicle without you ever knowing it’s there. Such a device can transmit your vehicle’s location in real time, wherever and whenever you may be driving. If you suspect someone may be trying to track your movements, have your vehicle inspected for foreign devices that may have been attached to it.

Remote Controlling Your Car’s Starter

Auto lenders are now able to install “starter interrupt devices” on vehicles they finance – especially to people with subpar credit. The device emits flashing lights and loud beeping noises to “remind” drivers of any overdue payments. A starter interrupt device also has the ability to remotely turn the vehicle off and prevent it from starting. It will light up and beep as a warning.

Horror stories have emerged of vehicles being remotely turned off while drivers were cruising on highways. (“Driver nearly crashes when her car suddenly shut down on a busy interstate because auto lender hit remote kill switch when she missed a payment,” reported journalist Charlene Adams last September.)

Starter interrupt devices have been installed on more than 2 million vehicles. As more people get used to them, the government could increasingly mandate their use on people who commit DUIs or other driving infractions. Remote control shut-off abilities might eventually become a mandatory feature on all new cars.

Black Boxes and Telematic Devices Compile Records of Your Driving Habits

Meanwhile, major auto insurance companies including Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm are trying to get drivers to install “telematic devices” in their cars. These gadgets, marketed under various names, are plugged into your vehicle’s onboard diagnostic port. They track your driving habits and automatically report them to the insurer via wireless phone networks. The data then becomes a permanent part of your driver profile.

Why would anyone agree to install such an intrusive piece of spyware in their car? Because those who do are promised the opportunity to lower their rates – if the telematic device reports exemplary driving habits.

Among the data points that are recorded are speed, braking, trip duration, and total miles driven. Supposedly, the car’s actual location isn’t tracked. But it’s difficult to believe that a determined insurance company employee, hacker, or government agent wouldn’t be able to find out where a car has been travelling based on cell tower signals.

Your Car As a Spy Device

A telematic device can easily be stolen, and so potentially can the data it contains. It may even be possible to intercept and download data using a smartphone.

You can refuse an insurance company’s data-aggregation device, but you can’t refuse the government’s. As of September 1, 2014, all new cars must come pre-installed with new generation “black boxes.” They record driving data that police can examine in the event of a traffic accident. You as the mere owner of your car have no ability to opt out of or disable these devices.

One way to protect yourself from having data stolen or altered from your car’s black box is to install a lock on your diagnostic port. For example, the AUTOcyb lock ($40.00) attaches to your vehicle’s diagnostic port connector. It prevents your black box data from being accessed by unauthorized persons.