Why car tracking isn’t a privacy issue

By Felix Salmon
February 18, 2010
said that "there really is something quite creepily Big Brotherish about trying to track every single vehicle in America". But then I heard from Bern Grush of Skymeter, and he's persuaded me that you don't actually need to make tracking information available in order to tax miles travelled.

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Last week, weighing in on a miles-travelled tax, I said that “there really is something quite creepily Big Brotherish about trying to track every single vehicle in America”. But then I heard from Bern Grush of Skymeter, and he’s persuaded me that you don’t actually need to make tracking information available in order to tax miles travelled.

Under his system (and of course he has a system capable of implementing this), anybody who’s pre-paid for their miles will simply see those miles essentially erased from their tracking device as they’re driven — along with the money leaving their pre-paid account. If you pay after you drive the miles, at the gas station, for instance, then the tracking data gets erased then and there.

Of course, you have the option to retain and not erase the data, if you want to keep it for your own records. But if you do that, there’s always a risk that someone could subpoena it.

In a Please Rob Me world, then, where Federal authorities are pushing to be able to track your cellphone, the privacy issues associated with a miles-travelled tax are probably the least of our privacy worries — so long as they’re very clearly articulated, and so long as the default settings are for absolute privacy. If you want to worry about people being able to track your movements, either in real time or in retrospect, then you should probably worry much more about your GPS-enabled phone and your FourSquare checkins than about any tracking device in your car.

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