Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Can you trust your car?

This post is essentially a fusion of the ideas I threw out in my post on "Cartapping" (February 12, 2006) and the 1996 paper, Information Terrorism: Can You Trust Your Toaster?, written by Matthew G. Devost, Brian K. Houghton & Neal A. Pollard.

In my cartapping post, I explained how the FBI had used a cellular connection that was a component of an emergency services system -- analogous to if not precisely the GM OnStar system -- to eavesdrop on conversations held in a car. My point there was how embedded environmental technology can be deliberately exploited by law enforcement for evidence-gathering purposes. The greater issue, of course, is how technology can, and will, erode our privacy IF we cling to what I call a bricks-and-mortar conception of privacy, i.e., a conception of privacy which says that if I do not use physical barriers to shield my activities from law enforcement scrutiny, then they are not "private" under the Fourth Amendment.

(As I've explained before, if something is "private" under the Fourth Amendment, then law enforcement officers have to satisfy the Amendment's requirements by getting a search warrant or relying on an exception to the search warrant requirement before they eavesdrop or conduct other invasions of privacy. If something is not "private" under the Fourth Amendment, then they do not need to rely on a warrant or an exception -- the person who did not maintain the privacy of his or her activities bears the risk that law enforcement will scruntinize them.)

So, "Cartapping" was about how law enforcement can deliberately exploit technology embedded in our environments. The DeVost article is about how embedded technologies can be exploited by terrorists and others who wish to do us harm . . . hence, the issue of regarding one's toaster with a level of distrust.

My post and the DeVost article are both about how embedded technology -- technology we take for granted and so ignore -- can be exploited to (i) cause direct physical harm to citizens or (ii) to inflict a more indirect harm by subjecting them to law enforcement scrutiny without their knowledge or consent. Both are about direct, positive action by directed at a target . . . a target of terrorists for the authors of the DeVost article and a target of law enforcement for my "Cartapping" post.

A relatively recent news story highlights an additional, and equally interesting possibility: Ralph Gomez of St. Augustine, Florida, bought a new Cadillac and was showing the car and its OnStar system off to his girlfriend. Something went horribly awry -- the OnStar operator for some reason tried to contact Gomez, but the volume on his OnStar was set so low he couldn't hear the operator calling him. Concerned (and no doubt following standard operating procedure), the operator called police, who stopped Gomez' car to see if there was any emergency.

There was no emergency . . . but there was, according to the wire story, cocaine in plain view on the car's console. That resulted in Gomez' being arrested for illegal drug possession AND his car and cash he had in the car's being seized, presumably for forfeiture.

I find this case an very interesting twist on the issue the DeVost authors and I both raised, i.e., the deliberate exploitation of technology to the disadvantage of a citizen (investigation) or citizens (terrorism). Here, no one deliberately exploited the OnStar system. Instead of being highjacked for law enforcement eavesdropping or used for terrorism, it functioned precisely as it was intended to . . . and, in the course of doing so, ratted out Mr. Gomez.

So, can you trust your car?

1 comment:

matt said...

Enjoyed the reference. One might look at all technology with a distrustful eye today. ;-)

Matt Devost