- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

Want to bring out the anti-technology Luddite in you? Then ponder the interesting new uses being found for Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology and the eensy-weensy little transponder hidden in your vehicle, if you have a built-in satellite navigation system.
Many new cars have this equipment and are thus subject to more than merely receiving helpful route directions from the friendly system of satellites orbiting the Earth in geosynchronous orbit. The same technology that helps you avoid getting lost also lets whomever controls the satellites know exactly where you are while in your vehicle and can follow your movements precisely, in real-time, to within a few feet. The transponder in your car is in constant contact with the system of satellites the all-seeing, never-blinking watchers in the sky.
When GPS-based navigational computers become commonplace in even low-end cars, as they are expected to be within three years or so, it will be possible to monitor the movements of almost every car on the road, worldwide, 24-hours a day.
Now, if that's not enough to creep you out, consider what our friends the Brits are up to. According to a hair-raising report aired last month by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and subsequently detailed in print by the respected computer publication, Micro Times, The UK's deputy prime minister, John Prescott, wants GPS-based electronic speed regulators for "all cars within the next few years." Rather than just provide helpful travel information, the onboard GPS system would interface with a specially coded map that relays information about speed limits on each street to the vehicle's engine computer which in turn would prevent the vehicle from being driven faster than those limits by throttling back the fuel and ignition systems. Mr. Prescott wants the speed regulators to be required by English law, so no new car could be sold without the technology.
This is more than just idle talk. Bear in mind that Mr. Prescott is a high government official which is bad enough but also that his nifty idea has been shown to work as a practical matter.
According to the BBC, a functional prototype has undergone three years of development and testing by the Motor Industry Research Association and Leeds University researchers with funding coming from the British government. The results have been sufficiently positive that England's Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions "is expected to recommend the system by phased in over a decade," according to the BBC and Micro Times.
The basics the ring of GPS satellites; the navigational computers and transponders all exist and have been in use by General Motors, Acura, BMW and Mercedes, among others, for years. Adding the specially digitized road maps with speed-limit information would not is not a major technical hurdle. Not only can it be done it is being done.
And the masses don't seem to be bothered a bit by the darker side of those friendly computer chips that are encrusting our lives like silicon-based Kudzu. Is it paranoiac to observe that we are arguably drifting gently into a world of near-constant surveillance? There are cameras everywhere. Photo radar and speed enforcement have tested the waters and the public, in general, has not squealed much about the implicit threat to basic privacy these intrusions imply. Surely, they will accept transponders in their cars without much protest, too. As they say, if you're not violating the law, what have you got to hide?
True, this business is for the moment an English-only worry. But bear in mind that a whole bushel of bad ideas has come to use from our friends in the United Kingdom, and it's a sure bet that certain personages in certain quarters of the United States government are deliciously aware of what is going on in England and rubbing their hands together in gleeful anticipation.
Presidential contender Al Gore, for one, is likely on that particular short list.
That brings us back to technology and the duality of our wonderful inventions. It's interesting that so many hacks in the journalistic establishment who abjure, for example, handguns, as inherently dangerous implements that must always be regarded with extreme suspicion, cannot also see the threat presented by other man-made devices and fear (or respect) them accordingly, as well.
Maybe the "inventor" of the Internet Mr. Gore can assuage our fears in this regard.
Somehow, though, I doubt he will.

Eric Peters is an editorial writer for The Washington Times and a syndicated automotive columnist.

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