October 13, 2010

Intelligent Transportation Systems: Big Brother Tracking Our Every Move By Vehicle and Public Transit (Updated 5/24/2011)

Obama Administration Floats Draft Plan to Tax Cars by the Mile

The Hill
May 5, 2011

The Obama administration has floated a transportation authorization bill that would require the study and implementation of a plan to tax automobile drivers based on how many miles they drive.

The plan is a part of the administration's Transportation Opportunities Act, an undated draft of which was obtained this week by Transportation Weekly.

The White House, however, said the bill is only an early draft that was not formally circulated within the administration.

“This is not an administration proposal," White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. "This is not a bill supported by the administration. This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration, does not taken into account the advice of the president’s senior advisers, economic team or Cabinet officials, and does not represent the views of the president.”
News of the draft follows a March Congressional Budget Office report that supported the idea of taxing drivers based on miles driven.

Among other things, CBO suggested that a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax could be tracked by installing electronic equipment on each car to determine how many miles were driven; payment could take place electronically at filling stations.

The CBO report was requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who has proposed taxing cars by the mile as a way to increase federal highway revenues.

Obama's proposal seems to follow up on that idea in section 2218 of the draft bill. That section would create, within the Federal Highway Administration, a Surface Transportation Revenue Alternatives Office.

It would be tasked with creating a "study framework that defines the functionality of a mileage-based user fee system and other systems."

The administration seems to be aware of the need to prepare the public for what would likely be a controversial change to the way highway funds are collected. For example, the office is called on to serve a public-relations function, as the draft says it should "increase public awareness regarding the need for an alternative funding source for surface transportation programs and provide information on possible approaches."

The draft bill says the "study framework" for the project and a public awareness communications plan should be established within two years of creating the office, and that field tests should begin within four years.

The office would be required to consider four factors in field trials: the capability of states to enforce payment, the reliability of technology, administrative costs and "user acceptance." The draft does not specify where field trials should begin.

The new office would be funded a total of $200 million through fiscal 2017 for the project.

World’s Top Auto Makers to Work on Putting NFC in Cars

March 18, 2011

Mobile phone firm Nokia has announced the launch of a new partnership with major car and phone manufacturers to develop common standards for connectivity between handsets and vehicles.

Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen have joined Nokia, Samsung and others as founder members of the Car Connectivity Consortium with the aim of developing common standards for connectivity between handsets and vehicles.

The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) will work towards integrating mobile technology with in-car entertainment, near field communications (NFC) and wireless charging, using the Terminal Mode standard.

Founding members include vehicle manufacturers Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Company, Toyota, and Volkswagen; system suppliers Alpine and Panasonic; and consumer electronics makers LG Electronics, Nokia and Samsung. New players are expected to join in the near future.

"Nokia understands that people want to use their smartphones everywhere including in their cars," says Floris van de Klashorst, director and head of Nokia Automotive.

"The Car Connectivity Consortium now has the power to turn Terminal Mode into the global standard for the integration of smartphones into vehicles, bringing together the exciting and innovating worlds of mobile ecosystems and applications and with the automotive industry. The industry support we received through the members has been excellent and makes Terminal Mode a truly global effort."

With the Terminal Mode standard, smartphones can be connected with in-car systems such as digital displays, steering wheel buttons, rotary knobs and car audio systems.

The CCC will focus on further developing the Terminal Mode standard, address certification and branding, and start looking at ways to introduce NFC and wireless charging.

"Due to the wide consumer acceptance of smartphone and apps, Samsung expects that the smartphone will be the dominant hub for in-vehicle infotainment and connectivity," says Dokyun Kim, director of the product strategy team at Samsung Mobile Division.

"We believe that the smartphone, when connected with an in-car device, will play an important role in providing users with multimedia experience in the vehicle, and that Terminal Mode will be one of the key enabling technologies."

The news comes after German car manufacturer BMW released a report in January outlining its vision of the NFC-enabled "car key of the future".

An NFC key would allow "personal access to a new mobility experience" and offer a significantly wider range of features, the car maker explained.

Meanwhile, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, NXP showcased a concept car developed by Continental which had NFC features built in, days after Morpho and Simlink unveiled an NFC car key fob that connects to any WiFi-enabled phone to enable consumers to pay for items at the point of sale with their existing mobile device.

Big Brother in Your Car

Futuristic hi-tech could save your life -- and raid your privacy

By Tara Servatius, Creative Loafing
Originally Published on September 29, 2004

Deep inside the United States Department of Transportation, Big Brother is rearing his head. On the third floor of the USDOT building in the heart of Washington, DC, a shadowy government agency that doesn't respond to public inquiries about its activities is coordinating a plan to use monitoring devices to catalogue the movements of every American driver.

Most people have probably never heard of the agency, called the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. And they haven't heard of its plans to add another dimension to our national road system, one that uses tracking and sensor technology to erase the lines between cars, the road and the government transportation management centers from which every aspect of transportation will be observed and managed.

For 13 years, a powerful group of car manufacturers, technology companies and government interests has fought to bring this system to life. They envision a future in which massive databases will track the comings and goings of everyone who travels by car or mass transit. The only way for people to evade the national transportation tracking system they're creating will be to travel on foot. Drive your car, and your every movement could be recorded and archived. The federal government will know the exact route you drove to work, how many times you braked along the way, the precise moment you arrived -- and that every other Tuesday you opt to ride the bus. They'll know you're due for a transmission repair and that you've neglected to fix the ever-widening crack that resulted from a pebble dinging your windshield.

Once the system is brought to life, both the corporations and the government stand to reap billions in revenues. Companies plan to use the technology to sell endless user services and upgrades to drivers. For governments, tracking cars' movements means the ability to tax drivers for their driving habits, and ultimately to use a punitive tax system to control where they drive and when, a practice USDOT documents predict will be common throughout the country by 2022.

This system the government and its corporate partners are striving to create goes by many names, including the information superhighway and the Integrated Network of Transportation information, or INTI. Reams of federal documents spell out the details of how it will operate.

Despite this, it remains one of the federal government's best-kept secrets. Virtually nothing has been reported about it in the media. None of the experts at the privacy rights groups Creative Loafing talked to, including the ACLU, the Consumers Union and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, had ever heard of the INTI. Nor had they heard of the voluminous federal documents that spell out, in eerie futuristic tones, what data the system will collect and how it will impact drivers' daily lives.

Buried inside two key federal documents lies a chilling cookbook for a Big Brother-style transportation-monitoring system. None of the privacy experts we talked to was aware of a 2002 USDOT document called the "National Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Plan: A Ten-Year Vision" or the "National ITS Architecture ITS Vision Statement," published by the Federal Highway Administration in 2003. [Editor's Note: The 2007 update of this document can be found here.]

What's more, no one we talked to was aware of just how far the USDOT has come in developing the base technology necessary to bring the system to life.

More than $4 billion in federal tax dollars has already been spent to lay the foundation for this system. Some of the technologies it will use to track our movements are already familiar to the public, like the GPS technology OnStar already used to pinpoint the location of its subscribers. Others are currently being developed by the USDOT and its sub-agencies.

Five technology companies hired by the USDOT to develop the transceivers, or "on-board units," that will transmit data from your car to the system are expected to unveil the first models next spring. By 2010, automakers hope to start installing them in cars. The goal is to equip 57 million vehicles by 2015.

Once the devices are installed, the technology will allow cars to talk to each other in real time, transmitting information about weather, dangerous road conditions ahead and even warning drivers instantaneously of an impending collision. When used in combination with GPS technology already being installed in millions of cars, the INTI will be able to transmit real-time information about where your car is and where you've been.

Though Joint Project Office officials refused to talk to Creative Loafing about the next step in their plan, one official defined it simply in a presentation before the National Research Council in January.
"The concept is that vehicle manufacturers will install a communications device on the vehicle starting at some future date, and equipment will be installed on the nation's transportation system to allow all vehicles to communicate with the infrastructure," said Bill Jones, Technical Director of the Joint Office.

"The whole idea here is that we would capture data from a large number of vehicles," Jones said at another meeting of transportation officials in May. "That data could then be used by public jurisdictions for traffic management purposes and also by private industry, such as DaimlerChrysler, for the services that they wish to provide for their customers."
According to USDOT's 10-year plan, the key "data" the INTI will collect is "the identity and performance of transportation system users."
"It's going to happen," said Jean-Claude Thill, a professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in transportation and geographic information and who has done research for USDOT. "It's probably going to start in the large metropolitan areas where there's a much larger concentration and more demand for the services that are going to be made available."
With this system, and the fantastic technology it will enable, the government and the auto industry claim they can wipe out all but a fraction of the 42,000 deaths on America's roads by literally intervening between the drivers, cars and the road. But as they careen toward making it a reality, its costs in terms of individual privacy have barely been contemplated.

If the government has its way, these technologies will no longer be optional. They'll be buried deep inside our cars at the auto factory, unremovable by law. If things go as planned, within the next decade these devices will begin transmitting information about us to the government, regardless of whether we want to share it or not.

More chilling still is the fact that Creative Loafing isn't the first to use the "Big Brother" label to describe the system. Even the corporate leaders working to create it refer to it in Orwellian terms. At a workshop for industry and government leaders last year, John Worthington, the President and CEO of TransCore -- one of the companies currently under contract to develop the on-board units USDOT wants to put in your car -- described INTI as "kind of an Orwellian all-singing, all-dancing collector/aggregator/disseminator of transportation information."

This story really begins in 1991, the year Congress established a program to develop and deploy what is now called "Intelligent Transportation Systems," or ITS. At the time, most ITS technology was in its infancy. But even back then, the long-term goal of the federal government and the automobile industry was to develop and deploy a nationwide traffic monitoring system. A transportation technology industry quickly sprang to life over the next decade, feeding off federal money and the corporate demand for wireless technology.

Since 1991, the driving force behind the INTI has been the Washington, DC-based Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA). This powerful group of government and corporate interests has spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to bring the INTI to life and worked side by side with USDOT and its agencies to create it.

A look at its shockingly broad 500-organization membership base shows just how much clout is behind the push to create the information superhighway. Forty-three of the 50 state Departments of Transportation are members, including the North Carolina DOT. Dozens of transportation departments from large and medium-sized cities, including the Charlotte Area Transit System, are also members. So are most of the key corporate players in the transportation technology industry and America's big three auto manufacturers.

Though the membership of the Board of Directors changes every year with companies cycling on and off, over the last two years, ITSA's board members have included executives from General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company, and executives from the technology companies helping to develop the on-board units, including TransCore and Mark IV Industries. The board has also included federal transportation bureaucrats like Jeff Paniati, the Joint Program Office director. ITSA president and CEO Neil Schuster says the bulk of the group's $6 million annual budget comes from its corporate members, money that ITSA then turns around and uses to lobby Congress and the federal government for further development of the INTI.

So why haven't you heard about ITSA or the INTI? Until recently, most of the groundwork necessary to lay the foundation for the system has been highly technical and decidedly unsexy. That's because before industry leaders and government officials could hold the first transceiver in their hands or bury it inside the first automobile, they had to create a uniform language for the system and convince the Federal Communications Commission to set aside enough bandwidth to contain the massive amount of data a constant conversation between cars, the road and the system would produce.

A half-decade later, with the computer standards 90 percent complete and the bandwidth set aside by the FCC, they're on the brink of a transportation revolution.

To most drivers, the above probably sounds pretty far-fetched. National databases to track our every move? A national network of government-controlled traffic management centers that use wireless technology for traffic surveillance by 2022? But the reality is that much of the technology and infrastructure needed to bring the system to life has already been put in place.

In the old days, if you turned on your windshield wipers, power just went to the wipers. But in the cars of today, a miniature self-contained computer system of sensors and actuators controls the wipers and just about everything else the car does. All that information winds up on something inside your car called a data bus.
"We have the ability to communicate essentially any of the vehicle information that's on that data bus, typically encompassing the state of about 200 sensors and actuators," said Dave Acton, an ITS consultant to General Motors. "Anything that's available on the bus is just content to the system, so you could send anything."
For automakers and tech companies, the databus is a goldmine of information that can be transmitted via imbedded cell phone or GPS technology. This year alone, two million cars in General Motors' fleet were equipped with the GPS technology that would enable customers to subscribe to OnStar-type services if they choose. Eventually, says Acton, all cars will likely be equipped with it.

But the same technology installed in GM's fleet is also capable of transmitting the car's location and speed to any government agency or corporate entity that wants it without the driver knowing, whether they subscribe to OnStar-type services or not.

Though government-run transportation centers across the country are not yet collecting the data, Acton predicts they will begin to within the next decade.

Ann Lorscheider agrees. She's the manager of the Metrolina Region Transportation Management center on Tipton Drive in Charlotte.
At the center off Statesville Avenue, traffic management specialists stare at dozens of television screens mounted on a massive wall, watching for accidents or anything out of the ordinary. From their workstations, they surveil 200 interstate miles, including I-77 from the South Carolina state line to US 901 in Iredell and I-85 from the state line into Cabarrus County.

When they need to, they can swivel the cameras mounted along the interstate or zoom in to get a better look at an accident. Sensors in the road constantly dump data back to the center on traffic patterns and speed. A system based on predictive algorithms tells them if a traffic pattern signals a potential problem.

The cameras and the sensors were installed by the state in 2000, at a cost of $41 million.
Traffic management centers like the one Lorscheider runs can now be found in just about every major to mid-sized city or region across the country, most constructed in over the last decade or so. News reports show that over the last five years alone, there has been an explosion in the construction of these centers. During that time, over 100 such centers have opened across the country, part of a boom driven by the USDOT and its sub-agency, the Federal Highway Administration, which has secured funding to help bring the centers to life.
"They're booming," said Lorscheider. "They're all over the place now."
Everywhere they've opened, the centers have decreased response time to accidents and slashed, sometimes by as much as half, the number of law enforcement personnel needed to respond to accidents and get traffic moving again. Congestion and travel times have also improved.

This all sounds fine and safety-centered. But in the future envisioned by USDOT and ITSA in federal documents, the centers will be far more than a handy congestion management tool. They'll form the very hub of the INTI itself, interacting with regional and national traffic centers and, ultimately, with immense national databases run in partnership with the private sector that will cull data from vehicles, crunch and archive it.

To bring the INTI to life the way the government plans, the system will have to do far more than use GPS technology to transmit where cars have been and what they did along the way. Cars will need to swap information instantaneously with each other and with roadside readers at highway speeds in real time, something today's GPS technology can't do. To solve the problem, the federal government is pushing back the boundaries of wireless technology to create devices that can make the vision possible. Using something called Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC, the transceivers the government is developing would allow cars to carry on simultaneous conversations with each other and with corresponding roadside units, sending messages or warnings throughout the transportation management system instantly.

These "conversations" could prevent collisions or stop drivers from running off the road, while giving transportation managers an instantaneous view of road and weather conditions. With a DSRC transceiver and GPS technology in every car, automakers believe they can wipe out nearly all automobile fatalities in the US. It's a goal they call the Zero Fatalities Vision.
"There is a basic consensus that we have to change the safety paradigm," said Chris Wilson, Vice President of ITS Strategy and Programs at DaimlerChrysler Research and Technology North America, Inc. "Everything we've done up until now -- airbags, seatbelts -- was to mitigate accidents once they occur. Now we're looking to prevent accidents. To do that we need live vehicle-to-vehicle communication and vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure."
The tantalizing prospect of saving thousands of lives comes with a heavy price. The same technology that will allow cars to talk to each other in real time would also allow the government and ultimately private business to use the INTI to track every move American drivers make -- and profit from it.

This is the dark side of the information superhighway, the one executives and federal bureaucrats don't like to talk about. That's probably because they know it's entirely possible to use the technology the government is developing to prevent fatal collisions without harvesting information from automobiles and archiving it.

For all their talk about saving lives, there's ample evidence that the driving force behind the push to develop the national information superhighway is to profit from the data it collects. Both the corporations and the government -- including the more than 40 state departments of transportation that are members of ITSA -- stand to eventually rake in billions in revenues if they can bring the system to life.

But first, they must find a way to harvest and archive the data.

That's where the ADUS, or Archived Data User Service, project comes in. For the last five years, while they were laying the foundation for the INTI, USDOT and ITSA have also begun setting standards for the massive databases that will collect and archive information.

According to federal documents, when it's completed, the brain of the INTI will essentially be a string of interconnected regional and national databases, swapping, processing and storing data on our travels it will collect from devices in our cars.

According to the "ITS Vision Statement" the Federal Highway Administration published in 2003, by 2022, each private "travel customer" will have their own "user profile" on the system that includes regular travel destinations, their route preferences, and any pay-for-service subscriptions they use.

Neil Schuster, president and CEO of ITSA, further clarified that goal in a recent interview with Creative Loafing.
"In fact, when we talk about this, the US government is talking about creating a national database, because where cars are has to go into a database," Schuster said.
Most INTI enthusiasts, like Schuster, insist that the lives potentially saved by this technology are worth giving up some privacy.
"When I get on an airplane everyone in the system knows where I am," said Schuster. "They know which tickets I bought. You could probably go back through United Airlines and find out everywhere I traveled in the last year. Do I worry about that? No. We've decided that airline safety is so important that we're going to put a transponder in every airplane and track it. We know the passenger list of every airplane and we're tracking these things so that planes don't crash into each other.

Shouldn't we have that same sense of concern and urgency about road travel? The average number of fatalities each year from airplanes is less than 100. The average number of deaths on the highway is 42,000. I think we've got to enter the debate as to whether we're willing to change that in a substantial way and it may be that we have to allow something on our vehicles that makes our car safer. . . I wouldn't mind some of this information being available to make my roads safer so some idiot out there doesn't run into me."

Schuster insists that drivers shouldn't worry about the government storing information about their travels because personal identifying information would be stripped from it.
"They're not going to archive all of the data, they're going to archive the data they need," Schuster said. "They want origin, they want destination, they want what route that vehicle took. They don't want the personal information that goes with that because it's useless to them."
Schuster's words would be more reassuring if they didn't contradict planning documents authored by his organization and USDOT.

ITSA's own website on ADUS says data archived by INTI databases will include "vehicle and passenger data." So does the USDOT's Ten-Year-Plan. In fact, according to ITSA's own privacy principles, which are printed on its website, transportation systems will collect personal information, but only that information that's relevant for "intelligent transportation system" purposes.
"ITS, respectful of the individual's interest in privacy, will only collect information that contains individual identifiers that are needed for the ITS service functions," the site reads. "Furthermore, ITS information systems will include protocols that call for the purging of individual identifier information that is no longer needed to meet ITS needs."
In other words, identifying information will be purged when government and corporate users no longer have a need for it, not when it becomes a privacy issue for an individual driver.

Everyone Creative Loafing spoke to for this article, and every federal document we examined, insisted that safeguards would be put in place to protect this data. So far, though, no one has been able to specify exactly how these safeguards will work.

It's a problem Eric Skrum, Communications Director for the National Motorists Association, is familiar with.
"Information on this is awfully hard to get and it's also very conflicting, where one hand will be telling you one thing and the other will be saying oh no, we wouldn't possibly be doing that," Skrum said.
It's a problem Creative Loafing ran into as well. For instance, Schuster insists that the data the system will eventually collect won't be used to issue people speeding tickets or other traffic citations.

But according to ITSA's own privacy principles, the information won't be shared with law enforcement -- until states pass laws allowing it. In fact, the US Department of Justice and USDOT are already working on a plan to share the data ITS systems collect with law enforcement. It's called the USDOT/DOJ Joint Initiative For Intelligent Transportation & Public Safety Systems, and its aim is to coordinate the integration of the system with police and law enforcement systems by developing the software and technical language that will allow them to communicate.

After Sept. 11, ITSA and USDOT added a homeland security addendum to their 10-year plan. The system, through wireless surveillance and automated tracking of the users of our transportation system, could bolster Homeland Security efforts, it said.

Sensors deployed in vehicles and the infrastructure could "identify suspicious vehicles," "detect disruptions" and "detect threatening behavior" by drivers, according to the addendum. Those who take public transit wouldn't escape monitoring, either. The addendum suggests "developing systems for public transit tracking to monitor passenger behavior."

So who will control the information transmitted by the on-board units? That's still up in the air, too. Like the black boxes now installed in cars that record data before a crash that can later be used against the driver, it's possible that the on-board units will be installed in new cars before the legal issues surrounding the data they collect are fully resolved, says one industry insider.

Robert Kelly, a wireless communications legal expert who has acted as legal council to ITSA, says privacy law will have to evolve with the technology. In other words, privacy issues probably won't be resolved until the technology is already in place. Legislatures and Congress will have to guide how everyone from law enforcement to corporations use the data and exactly what information they have access to, Kelly said.

But again, with privacy organizations largely in the dark and the development of the system hurtling forward, the question is how much influence, if any, privacy advocates will be able to wield before these devices are installed on the first future fleet of cars.

That's part of what frustrates Skrum, the National Motorists Association communications director.
"Because this is being done behind closed doors to a certain extent, the public isn't really going to have much to say about it," said Skrum.
The good news is that there's still time for the public to weigh in. It will take USDOT at least three more years of development and consumer testing before the first prototype "on-board unit" is ready. In the meantime, the federal government, automakers and the state departments of transportation will have to hash out a couple of billion-dollar details. So far, the government [each and every taxpayer] has borne nearly all the cost of developing the on-board units. But that will soon change. For the system to work, automakers must sign on to mass produce the on-board units and install them in cars, a move that will cost billions [Editor's Note: The automakers probably are using the bailout money from the taxpayers, so we are funding our own enslavement].

At the same time, the government must install the roadside readers to transmit the messages cars send, or the on-board units will be useless. So to bring the system to life, the government must spend millions, if not billions, on roadside units to communicate with cars at roughly the same time automakers begin installing the on-board units.

As Japan, Europe and foreign carmakers dash to develop similar technology, US automakers are under tremendous pressure. This is creating something of a chicken and egg situation. Given the nature of federal and state transportation budgets, the rollout of roadside units is likely to be gradual, starting at select trouble spots across the nation. But automakers say they need a mass deployment to make their effort worthwhile. They want to see a rollout of at least 400,000 roadside readers over about a three-year period.

A decision is currently slated for 2008, when automakers and the USDOT plan to come together to hash out a deployment strategy. At stake will be billions of dollars -- both in investments and profits. If the government and automakers can agree on a deployment plan, technology companies are expected to begin investing more heavily in the further development of programs the technology will enable.

ITSA projects that $209 billion could be invested in intelligent transportation technology between now and the year 2011 -- with 80 percent of that investment coming from the private sector in the form of consumer products and services.

Jean-Claude Thill, a professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in transportation and geographic information systems, says he believes the system will be deployed, just not as fast as car makers would like.
"It's not going to happen all at once," said Thill. "Look at cell phones. Right now in large urban areas you have a high density of cell towers so you have good coverage. If you venture on the interstate your signal gets weak and sometimes you lose it. You can't expect this to be different."
Thill says he believes the automobile manufacturers are playing hardball with the government to make sure the infrastructure is put in place quickly.
"I think the automobile manufacturers will do it," said Thill. "There is money in it. I think as the market develops in large urban areas, they will see that it is in their interest to get on the wagon. But nothing is going to happen until they are on board."
From the government's perspective, the good news is that a few sensors in a few cars and a little GPS technology can go a long way.
"Only a relatively small percentage of the approximately 260 million vehicles on US roads today need to be equipped with communication devices for the system to start producing useful data," said Bill Jones, the Technical Director of the USDOT's ITS Joint Project Office in a speech to the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board in January. "With 14 to 15 million new vehicles sold in the US each year, within two years you can have 10 percent of all vehicles equipped. We already know from our previous studies that a vehicle probe saturation of less than 10 percent can provide good information."
Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com

Feds to Require Black Box Event Recorders in All New Cars

May 24, 2011

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to issue new regulations next month that will require a black box style data recorder be fitted in all new cars.

Similar in concept to the familiar black boxes used in commercial aircraft for decades, the boxes are expected to record information about speed, seat belt use and brake application in the final seconds leading up to an accident. The data can be retrieved for later analysis.

Before you start screaming about government overreach, you should know that almost every new car already has a device like this fitted at the factory. For example, GM has fitted one to almost every new car they've built since the early 1990s.

The new rules are aimed at evening out a patchwork of state laws about who can access to the data, while standardizing the devices themselves so that the data is easier to recover. Currently, the devices are used mostly be car manufacturers to cover their own butts by helping to determine whether an accident was caused by driver error, or some problem with the vehicle.

This sounds like a sensible idea, as long as strict limits are places on what data is recorded and who has access to it. The potential for abuse is huge, such as cops using it to issue speeding tickets, or GPS data being used in a divorce case to show who you were visiting. Still, the upside could be pretty significant too; for example, proving that you weren't speeding when you had an accident.

Personally, I think I'll stick with my very analog 1985 Diesel Mercedes. The most sophisticated electronic device in that car is the AM/FM radio.

House Bill Requires Autos to Have Black Boxes

Responding to Toyota’s sudden acceleration crisis, a House committee is preparing legislation that would reshape auto safety regulations and boost potential fines for violations.

By Ralph Vartabedian and Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times
April 30, 2010

Responding to Toyota Motor Corp.'s sudden acceleration crisis, a key House committee is preparing sweeping legislation that would reshape auto safety regulations and significantly boost potential fines against automakers for violating safety laws.

The legislation, drafted by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), would create at least half a dozen new safety standards and rules — including a requirement that all new motor vehicles have so-called black boxes, or event data recorders, and brake override systems.
"This gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the ability to protect the public and to deal with concerns that have been raised by Toyota and other manufacturers," Waxman said in an interview.
The legislation, titled the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, would represent one of the biggest overhauls of federal motor vehicle safety regulation in a generation. The most recent comparable action came a decade ago, when Congress passed new safety rules in the aftermath of the rollover problem involving Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone tires.

The bill is likely to face opposition from automakers, in particular over a provision that would remove the existing $16.4-million cap on civil penalties against vehicle manufacturers for violations of safety laws and boost the fine for each violation to $25,000, from the current $6,000.

The change would create the potential for fines in the range of tens of billions of dollars, because federal fines are typically assessed on each vehicle produced by a manufacturer that is involved in a violation of the rules.

NHTSA's recent record $16.4-million fine against Toyota for violations of U.S. law could have been as high as $57.5 billion if the proposed Waxman law had been in effect at the time.
"NHTSA ought to have the ability to decide what is an appropriate fine," Waxman said.
The proposed law will be considered in a hearing on May 6 by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection.

The measure has several other provisions that may draw protests from the auto industry. It would create a new tax of $9 per new vehicle after three years, payable by the manufacturer, to help fund NHTSA and some of the new requirements of the law. The tax could raise more than $100 million a year based on current sales figures.

Auto executives who knowingly provide false information to federal regulators would be liable for fines of up to $250 million under the bill.

Beyond fines and taxes, the bill would dramatically overhaul the federal government's ability to oversee rapidly advancing electronics technology that is at the heart of new vehicles. It would create a center for vehicle electronics and emerging technologies.

It also would create a series of requirements that appear aimed at a number of specific shortcomings that were identified in Toyota vehicles that failed to prevent sudden acceleration.

The measure would require automakers to adopt so-called brake overrides, which cut engine power back to idle when the brake pedal is depressed. It would also set separate new standards on the placement of foot pedals, keyless ignition systems and transmission shift controls.

In addition to requiring event data recorders, the bill ensures public access to currently confidential early warning data reported by automakers and creates a new hotline for mechanics and others to confidentially report safety defects.

Big Brother: Is Your Car a Tracking Device?

Technology Makes Tracking Possible

By Craig Howie, AOL Autos
October 31, 2009

Is your car a tracking device? Do you think that somebody -- "the man," perhaps? -- is keeping an eye on your driving habits and tapping into your daily routine? Well, you'd be surprised how many motorists do.

And as automakers and motorists wary of crashes and insurance claims increasingly turn to communication devices that log drivers' behaviors, many suggest that these systems can result in breaches of privacy. But just how far do these systems go in terms of tracking drivers? Are privacy concerns legitimate? We take a look.

OnStar tracking

Motorists suspicious of tracking devices sometimes take a sideways view of systems such as OnStar, GM's real-time wireless communications hub that regulates vehicle security and diagnostics.

OnStar helps GM track a stolen vehicle or respond to an emergency like a tire blowout or air-bag deployment by way of an in-car monitoring system that records GPS data, odometer readings and diagnostics such as oil and tire pressure, and sends the information back to OnStar's control center. But can it track one of the company's 5.6 million subscriber's movements or route at any given time?

Jim Kobus, a communications manager at OnStar, says that the system cannot track any vehicle's location until a customer makes contact by his or her own volition (as the GPS feature required for location triangulation is not continually deployed) or the system detects a blowout or crash.

"We never know where any of our subscribers are until you initiate an interface with us by pressing either the blue or red button," Kobus said. "The only area where that would change is in the event you report the vehicle stolen. We make sure there's a valid police report and then we begin the process to track the vehicle.

"But generally [in that scenario] there's [evidence of] criminal intent and a court order or subpoena, and we follow the court order or subpoena."
At the request of law enforcement, OnStar can remotely slow down a vehicle or halt its operation.

Kobus says that OnStar is not connected to a car's "black box" -- its event data recorder -- adding that an OnStar operator would not contact a driver in the event that, say, their tires were dangerously low.
"We would not know that your vehicle has a diagnostic trouble code; there is no trigger mechanism," Kobus said. "Maybe there are people out there who want that notification. Some subscribers get a vehicle-diagnostics report. We go through all the vehicle diagnostic checks and send it to you once a month."
Kubus also says that while OnStar may record conversations between a driver and OnStar operator held over the car's communications system, he can "categorically" rule out any recording of a private conversation by individuals when they haven't engaged the OnStar system. Strict rules also govern OnStar's use or dissemination of any driver information, but the company will turn over driver information to authorities under court order or subpoena.

Almost all new cars come with an event data recorder, which is an electronic device connected to a variety of sensors around the vehicle both inside and outside. It can tell if a driver is wearing a seatbelt, or if the oil pressure is low, and in the event of a crash it will send a signal instructing the car's airbags to deploy. It also tracks the car's acceleration or deceleration and its speed in the seconds before a crash occurs. Such information is vital to crash investigators and commonly is used by insurance companies to determine who's at fault in a wreck.

But can it track a driver's every-day movements? GM spokesman Alan Adler explains that all GM vehicles produced since 1998 have event data recorders and that some models were fitted with the recorders from the late 1970s. The devices work by continuously collecting data, but the most recent data are continually overwriting previously stored information.

In the event of a crash, the data cycle is "frozen," allowing a snapshot of the most recent data to be recorded. Insurance investigators or law enforcement officers can then retrieve that information electronically.

"We [GM] don't do anything with that data ourselves," Adler said. "It's called a black box as it's a self-contained unit, but it doesn't do the same thing as an airplane's. In the case of a crash, it doesn't say where you were, or which street you were on. It records only certain pieces of data; it's a tool in reconstructing crashes."
Adler explains that drivers have little choice but to drive with the system intact.
"To get rid of the system then you have to get rid of airbags, and it's illegal to drive without airbags."
Store-bought "black box"

How about a system that tracks your route and speed and records everything you do by way of video up front and sensors mounted in the back, front and rear of the car? Sounds pretty scary, huh?

KCI Communications offers its "Black Box" product to motorists who it says want to give themselves the best possible chance of defending themselves in the event of a crash and resulting insurance claim. The device uses GPS to give a driver's exact vehicle speed, direction and position at the time of impact, as well as recording the incident with high-resolution video mounted on or above the dash.

The trick here is that none of the customer's data are uploaded or stored by the company -- all information, or 167 hours worth of driving time, remains on a 32-gig memory card similar to those found in digital cameras. A consumer simply plugs the card into their own computer to analyze results. All information on the card is overwritten once the recordings start over.

Chris Pflanz, KCI's director of marketing, says:
"You cannot remotely keep an eye on drivers. We stream live video and our main expertise is police video. GPS is not used for live tracking or any type of navigation; it is strictly for data and reconstruction of accidents. Once we sell a product we have no access to the data."
Tracking teen or elderly drivers

Family members concerned about a teen or elderly driver may want to buy what seems like the ultimate tracking device: a real-time alert system that monitors a car's route and notifies both the driver and external viewer in the event of a speeding offense or if the driver has left a pre-determined area, like breaching a city's limits (known as geo-sensing).

Inthinc's Tiwi system is backed by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, which says the device results in safer teen driving habits. The company also offers two more advanced models for fleet or commercial use.

Josh Huber at Inthinc explains that the device "monitors the speed of the car and also aggressive driving, accelerating or braking too hard, and whether the seatbelt is on. If the driver is going above the limit it will alert the driver.
"The notifications are automatically put on a database on our website and a parent can access that database or have it sent by alerts on their phone."
Jeff Harvey, also at Inthinc, says the company's primary goal is safer driving.
"[The device] talks back to the driver and gives them advice on how they're operating the vehicle," Harvey said. "That data goes back to a database and is stored for different periods of time. All of the data that is personal in nature is stored for the shortest amount of time. That data is accessible to parents through the [online] portal, which is password protected, and the data in our servers is protected. It's accessible only to the owner of the vehicle."
He says the information collected about a driver's habits is used to calculate a score, or grade, which is an algorithm based on the number of violations over a number of miles, and the severity of the violations. That score, Harvey says, is kept for up to a year, but again is only accessible to the owner of the vehicle, who can choose to share that information with insurance companies should they choose.
"We just store the score itself," Harvey said. "You wouldn't be able to drill down into the events that make up that score. They are purged out over an appropriate area of time."
Harvey adds that in the event of a stolen vehicle, the owner can log onto Inthinc's website and see where their car is, and can work independently with police for its recovery.

The future is not bleak, but it is highly connected. The way in which you interact with your vehicle will become more complex in the years to come and the relationship between you and manufacturer of your vehicle is likely to be built on something more than just car payments going forward.

Will Old Cars Eventually Be Banned?

By Eric Peters, National Motorists Association Blog
November 24, 2009

If you’re not into modern cars, you’ve always had the option of driving something else. A car without a computer, GPS, a black box or any technology that pre-empts your decisions about everything from whether and when to turn the headlights on to how fast you’re allowed to drive.

But this end-run around automotive Big Brotherism may not be possible in the years ahead. Older, pre-computer cars could be outlawed entirely.

Several steps in that direction are already under way:
  • Requiring that older cars comply with modern emissions control standards

    Many states have already rescinded (or are working to rescind) the “rolling exemptions” that used to allow owners of cars more than 30 years old (or thereabouts) to skip the annual or semi-annual emissions check — on the sound reasoning that most cars that old are no longer even roadworthy (if they’re even still in existence) and the few that are tend to be rarely-driven antiques and collectibles whose actual contribution to smog/pollution is so small as to be irrelevant.

    Rescinding the exemption is bad enough — because it’s purely symbolic and arguably punitive — hassling old car owners for no good reason. But demanding that older cars meet current (or even recent) emissions control standards goes way beyond mere hassle.

    It is possible for the owner of a 30-year-old car to tune/adjust his vehicle so that it meets the standards in effect at the time it was built. It is impossible to make it meet stricter (often much stricter) standards that came into being years after it was built — at least, not without re-engineering the entire car.

    For example, a modern fuel injection system would have to be fitted in place of the original carburetor. Catalytic converters and oxygen sensors and a computer to run the whole thing would also be needed. In all likelihood, the entire original engine/drivetrain would have to be replaced with a modern engine/drivetrain — leaving the shell of the car as the only thing “old” about it.

    You’d be looking at thousands and thousands of dollars in retrofitting. To say nothing of ruining the collectibility of the car by altering its original drivetrain/systems beyond recognition.

    Most people, obviously, could not afford to have their antique/collectible vehicles modified in this way. Those who could probably would not want to keep the car, if the price of doing so meant destroying everything that makes it an interesting and collectible piece of automotive history.

    But the emissions assault is not the only way old cars might be done away with.

  • Safety

    Virtually all modern cars have anti-lock brakes, multiple air bags, and traction/stability control. Within a few years, new cars will almost certainly be equipped with “smart” systems that let the car’s onboard electronics receive instructions about things like the speed limit of the road you happen to be driving on — and which would be capable of interceding if you tried to drive faster. Or the system could be set up so you’d have a ticket sent to you, automatically, every time you drove faster than the posted limit.

    GPS — marketed as a helpful tool to aid you in getting from “a” to “b” — also means your car (and thus, you) can be tracked in real time, 24-7, every time you get behind the wheel and everywhere you go. It would also be possible — is possible — to use GPS to turn off the car’s engine. (GM’s OnStar already has the ability to open the locks remotely; shutting down the engine via the same basic technology is just as doable.)

    Onboard alcohol sensors are also being developed that are expected to become standard equipment within five years. These are similar in principle to the “blow tube” interlocks required for DWI offenders but differ in two key ways. One, they are “passive” — meaning the sensors don’t require the driver to blow into a tube before the car will start. Instead, sensors built into the steering wheel or gearshift knob (or some other place) sample your skin or breath to detect alcohol without you even being aware of it. Two, the sensors will be built into all new cars — instead of affixed to the cars of DWI offenders only — nixing forever the quaint notion that only people who actually drive drunk deserve to be treated like drunk drivers.
And so it goes.

Cars that lack such systems will be targeted for being lawless — and, of course, unsafe. Since it will be economically and otherwise unfeasible to retrofit older cars with this stuff — just like modern anti-pollution equipment — the result will be a very effective indirect ban on older cars.

Ten — even five years ago — the scenarios painted above would have seemed a bit on the ragged side of paranoia. Today, the technology is all around us — and the actual efforts and public utterances of anti-old car politicians (and the automakers themselves; see story below for a “case in point”) speak for themselves.

So, don’t say you weren’t warned. And try to enjoy your antique/classic car while you still can.

Is My Company Car Being Tracked Without My Knowledge?

By fiftyfifty, AboveTopSecret.com
August 17, 2007

I have a company car which I use for work and private use on a daily basis. I have not been told that there is any kind of tracking device in my car.

I pulled up at my home last night after visiting a relative and it was dark outside, I turned off the lights and took the keys out of the ignition. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed green and red flashing lights on the floor below the front passenger seat. I thought it was probably some kind of toy left in my car by my young neice but upon inspection, it turned out that there was a grey box under the seat with a series of lights on it.

The car has GPS built in and the receiver is mounted above the rearview mirror, the rest is mounted in the center console, so I doubt that this box has anything to do with it

It is well hidden and can only be seen by getting right down to the floor in the back. The lights are only visible when it is very dark.

What is it, and why haven't I been told about it if it is to track my movements? I have to fill in a mileage record and where I have been weekly anyway so if It was tracked they wouldn't need me to do that would they?

Edit to say: I don't have to record my personal movements, just the mileage.

reply posted on 17-9-2007 by marg6043:
You probably have the same kind of system that is used by some rental car companies to monitor mileage and to tell if the car leaves the state.

I don't know how sophisticated they could be but I imagine somebody else in this board may have some more information that I have.
reply posted on 17-9-2007 by benevolent tyrant:
Your "company car" may very well be tracking you. There was a recent incident in Michigan where a man was fired from his job because his company was able to track his movements through his company supplied cell phone.

The company was able to determine, through his cell phone records (every cell phone is, basically, a GPS) his location and movements. The man was fired because the company could prove that he was not where he supposed to be.

It doesn't take much to assume that a company car is "bugged" with a GPS unit. The company is certainly within it's rights to equip their vehicles with devices to help prevent theft and, as a by-product, to keep tabs on their employees.

reply posted on 17-9-2007 by marg6043:
Yeah, I agree with BT, I did a search on tracking devices and is going to blow you mind.

They can track you anyway they want and then use it against you.

Anybody can buy the devices for spying on driving tens, spouses and company cars.

This site tells what the devices can do.

Perhaps you should think over having the company car and use your own.
Intelligent Transportation Systems: Stategic Deployment Plan for the 21st Century
Sources of Information in Transportation - Intelligent Transportation Systems
KU researcher warns against potential threat of 'geoslavery'
Peak Traffic: The Achilles Heel of Highway Expansion Plans
Maryland's highway surveillance systems
Britain will be first country to monitor every car journey
Vehicle Disabling Systems and Cash for Clunkers

History of the ITS Standards Program
The USDOT initiated the ITS Standards Program in 1996 in response to a mandate in 1991’s Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA), which stated:
Standards – The Secretary shall develop and implement standards and protocols
to promote the widespread use and evaluation of intelligent vehicle-highway
systems technology as a component of the Nation’s surface transportation
systems. To the extent practicable, such standards and protocols shall promote
compatibility among intelligent vehicle-highway systems technologies
implemented throughout the States. In carrying out this subsection, the Secretary
may use the services of such existing standards-setting organizations as the
Secretary determines appropriate. (Section 6053(b))
In 1998, this mandate was also included in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), recognizing the importance of ITS standards for implementing regional and project level ITS architectures.

Smart Transportation in Lancaster County, Penn.
Surveillance and Detection: Through federal stimulus funding, PennDOT plans to install traffic surveillance cameras on various portions of our limited access highways: US 30, US 222 and PA 283.

Cook County, Illinois

U.S. Illinois Cook
Population 304,059,724 12,901,563 5,294,664
Total recovery funding $355,821,708,578 $14,237,317,960 $5,861,052,982
Funding per Capita $1,170 $1,104 $1,107

This site was updated in June 2010. The data includes Recovery.gov data released on May 17, 2010, recipient-reported data through Apr. 30, 2010, and some grants and loans from USASpending.gov through May 2010. Our next update is expected in late August.

Funding by Federal Agency and Department:
Click total to see spending list
Education Department $1,776,529,560
Labor Department $1,389,207,314
Transportation Department $692,262,127
Housing and Urban Development Department $527,601,886
Energy Department $459,748,601
Health and Human Services, Department of $310,379,268

Stimulus contracts, grants and loans in Cook County, Ill. Data last updated on June 2010.

For some programs where states do to note report where money will be distributed across the state, we do not have the allocation for individual counties. Those programs include: Medicaid, unemployment benefits and food stamps. Those amounts are included in the totals for where the state agency receiving that money is located.

This county has more than 200 stimulus spending items. View the top 200 items by expenditure amount. View the lists by federal department and agency in the top-right corner of this page.

Amount refers to both the amount of stimulus funding going toward the project and the face value of the loan.

Chicago Transit Authority
$191,300,189 in federal stimulus funding for the reconstruction of passenger rail stations; improvement of work facilities; rehabilitation of track systems and the purchase of new rolling stock, as well as preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery. (3/18/2009)
Chicago Transit Authority
$48,931,726 in federal stimulus funding for reconstruction of passenger rail stations; improvement of work facilities; rehabilitation of track systems, as well as preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery. (6/12/2009)
Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation
$46,603,124 in federal stimulus funding for 1) bridge rehabilitation and/or reconstruction on the Electric District and the Union Pacific North Line; and 2) the replacement of fiber optic cable on the BNSF commuter line. (6/19/2009)
Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation
$94,222,481 in federal stimulus funding for 1) Bridge Rehabilitation and/or Reconstruction on the Union Pacific North Line; 2) the Replacement of fiber optic cable on the BNSF commuter line; 3) Locomotive Remanufacturing; 4) New 35th Street Station on the Rock Island Line; 5) Station n and Platforms on the Union Pacific and Heritage Corridor Lines; and 6) AC Refrigerant Conversion on Commuter Cars. (6/25/2009)
Chicago Transit Authority
$6,944,528 in Rail and Transit Security Grant Program (ARRA) American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Transit Security Grant Program Capital Projects (ARRA TSGP-CP) under the Homeland Security Department / DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency (9/29/2009)

Electronic Toll Collection & Automatic Vehicle Identification

Since 1992 active Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags have been used in vehicles to automate the toll process on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels in a process called Electronic Toll Collection (ETC). These tags are mounted to the windshield or externally surrounding the license plate on a vehicle and read as the vehicle proceeds without stopping through special lanes at the toll plaza... The Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) component of the system consists of the RFID transponder located in the automobile and the equipment to communicate with the transponder located at the toll plaza and the License Plate Recognition (LPR) subsystem. While the toll plaza RFID transponder equipment is generally called a reader, in most ETC systems it can also write information to the vehicle transponder such as the time, date, location and vehicle class of the transaction. Violation enforcement consists of using the identification elements gathered from the Automatic Vehicle Classification (AVC) and AVI components along with additional information such as license plate and vehicle images to allow authorities to collect from and/or prosecute those who violate the electronic toll plaza.
Flashback: Europe Develops RFID License Plate Tracking; U.S. Next? (December 2008)
RFID-enabled license plates to identify UK vehicles (June 2004)
U.S. Department of Transportation Solicits Proposals for RFID License Plates (October 2009)
US Department of Transportation Solicits Proposals for Embedding RFID into License Plates
Maryland to store license-plate scanner data at intel fusion center
New License Plate Scanners Will Monitor Maryland Drivers
High-tech license plate scanner gives police powerful new ability

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