Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW TRACKABLE YOU....As long as we're on the subject of privacy rights while traveling, Tyler Cowen points to this story from today's Washington Post:

On a freeway north of Los Angeles, as Ryan Evans's sleek 1998 Honda Accord coupe speeds above 70 mph, the black box tucked under his front passenger seat grumbles a grating noise, warning the 18-year-old that he's going too fast.

....Road Safety International, a Thousand Oaks firm that has sold 10,000 of its professional-grade recorders to paramedic, police and firefighter fleets, designed the cheaper consumer model that Evans is test-driving specifically for parents to install in their teenagers' cars. The modular components record data, such as seat-belt use, speed, hard braking, hard cornering, pedal-to-metal acceleration and throttle position, that can be uploaded to home computers using software that analyzes driving performance.

....But that's only the beginning: In three months, an under-$200 global positioning system accessory will be available to record where the car goes, "like bread crumbs on a road map," says Selditz. Next year, the communications module will allow parents to locate their teen drivers on an online map in real time.

I expect this to be very popular, and not just for teenagers. It will probably also be marketed as a safety device, much like cell phones for emergencies, and before long every car will have one.

And not just cars. A few weeks ago I was at our local computer store and saw a GPS watch on sale. Basically, your kid wears the watch and you can log on to a website that tells you where the child is at all times. The model I saw was a bit bulky (and a bit pricey), but that's bound to change in short order. Given the almost palpable fear that suburban parents have about their children's safety these days, I expect that before long soccer moms will be routinely outfitting their children with these devices so that they can track their kids both in their cars and out of them.

So where does it end? Even if it's designed for teenagers, if you put a black box in a car there's nothing to stop a jealous wife from using it to track her husband too. After all, why would you turn it off unless you had something to hide? GPS-like positioning is also a part of cell phones, and how long will it be before the positioning data is available (for a fee!) to family members?

And needless to say, if the data exists, it can be subpoenaed.

Bottom line: I imagine that within a decade or two, most of us will be trackable 24 hours a day, and that data will be available to law enforcement and maybe to private detectives too. In fact, it will likely be considered suspicious if you don't wear your trackable watch/cell phone/black box at all times. The phrase "18-minute gap" might take on a whole new meaning.

I suppose in the end we'll all adapt to this. We always do. After all, for most of history humans have lived in small tribes or villages where, essentially, their every movement was public knowledge. Perhaps in this case technology will be more a way of recreating the past than of taking us into the future.

Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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