Connected cars: Big Brother in the driver’s seat?

Imagine a world where driver’s licenses are obsolete. The car of the future will do everything for you. It will drive itself. It will talk with other cars. It will drop you off and then find its own parking space. It may also obey orders from people with evil intent.

Thanks to poor security design, outside people can sometimes take control of a car and make it do dangerous things or even crash it. It might someday be possible to take full control of a car remotely and abduct it.

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication is a likely part of the automobile’s future. It offers strong safety advantages; for instance a car could automatically send nearby cars a warning of a hazard. It could also be used for more sinister purposes — or for purposes that people in authority consider good, but could infringe on our privacy and freedom. The NHTSC has proposed mandating V2V technology in new cars. Would this include the ability to take remote control of the vehicle? It isn’t clear.

Law enforcement officials would love the idea. If a car is moving erratically, a cop could send a remote shutdown command. If it’s going 90 MPH, he could make it slow down. Exercised stupidly, as cops often exercise their power, it could create crashes instead of preventing them. We can kill stolen phones remotely, why not stolen cars? But a stolen phone doesn’t turn into a deadly hazard when it suddenly shuts down on the highway.

Or … they might shut down your car just because they don’t want you going anywhere. Let’s say you forget to renew your registration. On the first of the next month, you tell your car to take you to work, and it says, “Sorry, I can’t do that.” Randal O’Toole writes:

Privacy advocates should also worry that connected roads would also connect cars to government command centers. The government will be able to monitor everyone’s travel and even, if you drive more than some planner thinks is the appropriate amount, remotely turn your car off to “save the planet.” Of course, [Secretary of Transportation] Foxx will deny that this is his goal. Yet the Washington legislature has passed a law mandating a 50 percent reduction in per capita driving by 2050, and California and Oregon have similar if not quite-so-draconian rules, and it is easy to imagine that the states, if not the feds, will take advantage of Foxx’s technology to enforce their targets.

Like so many advances in tech, the “Internet of Cars” is a two-edged thing. It could give us more freedom than ever, letting people get home safely even when they’re dead drunk. Or it could give governments more control over our driving habits.

Published by

Gary McGath

I am a freelance writer, author of the books _Files that Last_ and _Tomorrow's Songs Today_, with a strong background in software development, file formats, and digital preservation.

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