- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

This was once a free country. But day by day, year after year, our privacy is getting chipped away. With hardly anyone knowing it, automakers have installed tracking devices in as many as 40 million new cars. Pioneered by General Motors, the Event Data Recorders, or EDRs, keep a record of how an individual automobile is being used, such as how fast it is bring driven, how hard it is taking corners, how the brakes are being applied and if seat belts are being fastened. EDRs are now standard equipment, and future models of the device will have the ability to track everywhere a car goes using satellite-generated global-positioning systems. This technology needs to be shelved. In a free country, it should be fundamental that a citizen should be able to drive where he wants, when he wants, without being followed.

The auto-monitoring devices were introduced under the guise of improving safety. Commercial versions are outfitted with alarms that sound at a certain speed or under circumstances of supposed reckless driving, and then record the practices. Some parents have installed the machines in their cars to teach teen-agers how to drive better, and to check to see if the kids are doing so. It is bad enough that some would-be role models hope electronic gizmos can replace real parenting. But the more pressing danger from this technology is how government may use it. The increasing harassment of motorists by traffic cameras sets a foreboding precedent for wider use of EDRs.

If unchecked, however, some trends are leading us to an Orwellian future in which all our movements can be monitored. Other countries are leading the way. A common law-abiding Londoner is filmed approximately 300 times a day by the city’s 150,000 surveillance cameras. In Singapore, cameras involuntarily were installed in sick people’s homes to make sure they didn’t go outside. Here in America, Wal-Mart planned a system to track merchandise to a customer’s home using high-tech computer chips carrying a radio frequency. This surveillance swing needs to be rolled back. For a century, the automobile was a symbol of freedom, and Americans love their cars for the freedom and mobility they provide. Getting rid of factory-installed Event Data Recorders is a fitting battle in the war to defend our freedom.

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