22 thoughts on “Life In The Twenty-First Century”

  1. The mere fact that On-Star continually spies on your viehicle’s location is simple enough reason for all of my Libertarian minded friends to buy Ford’s instead.

  2. I’ve bought this kind of stuff up on auto blogs and the usual response is that I’m paranoid. Certainly our government would never do such a thing as screw over someone who was innocent, or a dissident, or a political opponent. And if they did well the guy would probably deserve it anyway.

    We are in bad need of some heavy conciousness raising on the subject of the relationship between liberty and privacy.

  3. Oh, one more thing. With some cars now, you can’t get the car without ONSTAR on board. It will be interesting to see what all the new Pelosi-mobiles will be fitted with.

  4. With some cars now, you can’t get the car without ONSTAR on board.

    Every feature has a circuit. Every circuit has a breaker. Whatta they gonna do, make it so the OnStar is powered through the same circuit as the fuel pump?


    Um, forget I said anything.

  5. “Gee, there’s no possible way for that kind of capability to be abused by law enforcement authorities.”

    Sure, along with the batons they have to allow them to beat people and guns that give then the capacity to kill people.

  6. I’ve got a vehicle with OnStar. I’d consider the ability to disable the vehicle in the event of theft a plus. Of course, I live in the car theft capital of Canada. That’s what you get when you’ve got a relatively mild climate combined with lax drug laws to attract the human detritus from the rest of the country, I guess. The RCMP has had a “bait car” program out here for years where ordinary cars are set up with tracking technology and remote controls to trap car thieves – they steal the car, the police track them and position units to intercept, and then they kill the engine and activate the door locks. A lot of these idiots steal 2-5 cars per week to feed their drug habits, so it’s a relief to get them off the streets for a while. Making every GM car potentially radioactive to them by turning them into more bait cars sounds fine to me.

  7. They also have spike-strips, helicopters, guns, and radios.

    Any system that provides benefits to the owner of a car when it’s stolen (for location, disabling, or whatever else) could be abused by police as well (and of course also used by police quite legitimately) – kinda like their guns and spike-strips and patrol cars that can ram your car to spin it out.

    Does that suggest that those who desire such protections for their property should not desire it, because police could abuse it for unclear reasons, despite the alleged requirement that the owner call in a report of theft, and despite the ease with which abusive police can already simply pull you over (or engage you in a high-speed chase where they always win)?

    How is this worse than the existing abilities abusive police have to oppress you? I’d argue that it’s probably an improvement over their existing means of oppression.

    Sounds a lot like “don’t get keyed locks on your doors – police could use a lock-pick gun to open your door”, where the alternative is “police will ram your door down entirely”.

    (Plus, as it says, “Vehicles must have electrical systems, wireless service, and GPS satellite signals in order for OnStar to work, and owners must subscribe to the services” – you gotta PAY EXTRA to get this service.

    Worried that The Man will slow your car down [as opposed to just ramming you or blowing out your tires with a spike strip or shooting you]? Don’t subscribe.

    GM wants to make money by selling you OnStar services. If you don’t like the services, and think the chance of police abuse outweighs the chance of it being useful in the much more common case of theft, don’t subscribe.

    I’m calling the reaction to this borderline paranoia, not so much because I think no cop anywhere would ever try to abuse it, but because the reaction is overblown compared to the distribution of the service, the need to subscribe, and the likelihood of abuse compared to the extant rate of police abuses.

    If the police are that bad – and in some cases and some places they are – OnStar is the last thing you need to worry about.)

  8. You can see exactly where this going. In 20 years (maybe less), the govt will flip a switch and, voila!, nobody can drive faster than 55.

  9. The fundamental point is: who gets control. Nothing wrong with having a system where an owner pushes the button or gives that ability to whomever they trust.

    The potential for abuse comes from someone besides the owner deciding to push the button.

    It’s a potential for abuse, that doesn’t mean it won’t be used in ways that owners might like at times.

    We still need frontiers.

  10. Yes, it’s possible that the government could abuse this ability. It’s also possible that my car will get stolen. Isn’t it rational to weigh the probabilities and choose the lesser evil?

    If the government engaged in this kind of hijinks against dissidents there would be political repercussions. The Clinton administration apparently abused their authority in having the IRS aggressively audit not-for-profits they didn’t like, and word of this abuse reached a lot of people who cared about it, and energized us to oppose the Democrats since then.

    Meanwhile, auto thieves continue their misdeeds without shame.

  11. Lots of things can potentially be abused. I have several baseball bats next to my laptop here, and I could take one of them and go beat my neighbor to death right now. She’s a single Mom half my size – who could stop me?

    Cops can also know my location any time they choose, thanks to the aGPS functionality on my cellphone (which is great for Google Maps). They could also be listening to my conversations through the microphone on my phone, even when I’m not speaking on it.

    Did I mention I have Lojack and EZ Pass on my car? Lots of potential for abuse there.

    So it is NOT about the potential for abuse.

    There is a problem though, and it’s the clear double standard of justice as between private citizens and officers of the law. Cops blow down my suburban street do 50+ Mph every day. If I did that I’d have had my license taken away long ago. I heard a terrible story on the news this morning about a man who ran outside with a baseball bat to defend his daughter from being attacked outside his door by two drug addicts; a cop saw him with the baseball bat and shot him through the chest, killing him. If I had done that I would be in prison right now. The cop? The fact that I have to ask -is- the problem.


    I would also like to point out that this is only a small taste of the future. I’m sure every reader of this blog is aware of the DARPA Grand Urban Challenge. Those robots will improve by leaps and bounds every year, and the year will come (sooner than you think) when those robots are safer drivers than any human can be. They don’t drink beer, sleep, blink, talk on a cell phone or get distracted. The day will come when driving your car will be considered reckless endangerment of everyone else on the road, because a “mere human” is 10x more likely to cause a crash on a robot.

    And on that day the cops won’t have to slow you down to 5 Mph. They’ll just tell the car to lock the doors and windows and drive its passengers to the nearest police station.

  12. Of course, Mark Whittington came over to show off his inability to cogitate.

    I think Conrad gets it. If you are worried about your car being stolen, what about limiting the speed to 5 mph helps you? Killing the engine does a much better job. What’s the value of speed control limitation? You worried about the criminal wrecking your car if the engines killed, but you think slowing them to 5 mph will keep the car from getting harmed?

  13. The point is not whether or not a particular power will be abused by the current holder of that power, the point is the power in itself. Those more familiar with monarchy and tyranny know how easy it is for power to be transferred or wrested from one entity to another, and how quickly a power can be transferred from benign hands to malevolent hands. The surest way to prevent power from being abused is preventing it from building up in the first place. Sadly, many individuals today are uneducated in the lessons of history and are all too willing to put themselves under the yoke.

  14. The point is not whether or not a particular power will be abused by the current holder of that power, the point is the power in itself.

    So where were you when they passed the PATRIOT Act?

  15. “Every feature has a circuit. Every circuit has a breaker. Whatta they gonna do, make it so the OnStar is powered through the same circuit as the fuel pump?”

    One should think of the modern automobile as a local area network on wheels. The computer in the car can monitor and record all sorts of changes to the vehicle: engine management, environmental controls, the position of the window motors, the data feed to the gauges, etc.. If you disable a certain feature in that network it will know and report something wrong. Usually in the form a maintenance light or check engine light. You might be able to ignore this but some states won’t pass inspection with a CEL light on.


    “Cops blow down my suburban street do 50+ Mph every day. ”

    Oh yea! Just this morning I was getting on the highway and looked in my mirror to see a Texas State Trooper barreling up on me. I was like, “oh crap” but looked down and was fine with my speed. He got right up on my ass, swung sharply over into the next lane and proceeded to haul 80 mph in a 60 without his lights on.


    “You worried about the criminal wrecking your car if the engines killed, but you think slowing them to 5 mph will keep the car from getting harmed?”

    It is not about them wrecking your car. It is about cutting power to the power brake and power steering systems of the vehicle. Not to long ago there was a pedestrian that was run over by a car thief in a Dallas PD bait car. The DPD cut the ignition and someone stepped out into the street shortly there after. The thief couldn’t stop the car in time because they didn’t have the leg strength to mash the brake peddle down hard enough without the power brake system to assist.

  16. OnStar is a contract between an individual car owner and the corporate entity that provides the service outlined in the contract. The police are not a party to the contract, nor the service provided.

    I look at it the same way that I look at my TollTag. I’ve contracted with NTTA to pay to use the tollway to get to and from work. I do not pay them to monitor the time it takes for me to travel from tag reader to tag reader and provide that information to the police. If I find out they are doing that I will stop using the tollway.

    Of course, IIRC there’s a fine print clause saying that they can do whatever they darn well please with the info, but that’s just par for the course in this era of abusively one-sided contracts.

    Not that I’d ever get an OnStar vehicle. Too much security, IMHO. The elements of risk and danger are of the tastier spices in life.

    P.S. Josh, that’s what the parking brake is for – when the regular foot brake doesn’t work. Hopefully they charged the thief with vehicular assault as well.

  17. The 5 MPH car chase. I am thinking in terms of British comedien Rowan Atkinson of “Bean” and “Blackadder” fame. I can just picture the comic effects of “Bean” driving down the Motorway at 5 MPH with all of Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan London Constabularly in pursuit.

  18. Josh,

    So let me get this straight, Brock’s experience of cops abusing their power can be lampooned, because you don’t have to worry about it. But my questions can be rebutted because of some experience you are aware of? Such inconsistency in your arguments make it difficult to believe you actually understand the discussion.

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