Tuesday, January 31, 2006

UNDER THE LOOKING GLASS


From the founder of Capitol Hill Blue, Doug Thompson we read the following:

The Federal Highway Administration, through its Office of Transportation Studies, announced $11 million in grants in December for work on a nationwide monitoring system that would allow state and federal governments to track where Americans drive through Global Positioning Satellite monitors placed in cars.

The grants are based on pilot projects the feds have been running in Oregon and Washington State, supposedly to allow states to tax motorists on the miles they actually drive, and based on the results of the project, they hope to make it nationwide.


Yet what Doug has just described is only the TIP of huge government corporate partnerships that will forever change the way you drive.

From Charlotte we get the inside scoop on how our driving habits will be monitored, controlled and taxed. (Italics mine for emphasis)

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.

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. [Welcome to your future world. Steve]

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.

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."

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.

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 embedded cell phone or GPS technology. This year alone, 2 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 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, 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."


From Doug Thompson:
The highway administration report cites two Supreme Court decisions, U.S. v Knotts and U.S. v Karo that say Americans have no expectation of privacy when traveling on public roads.

Even more chilling is a survey hyped by the Department that says their studies shows "less than 7 percent of the respondents expressed concerns about recording their vehicle's movements."


I wonder, will any public or private group protest this loss of privacy or is there just to much profit involved? Will individuals organize protests against this loss of privacy or does apathy reign?

Doug Thompson said it well: "A tyrant's best ally has always been an apathetic populace. Citizens of Germany learned that awful truth in 1939."

Will we learn that lesson before it is too late? Behold, The Pale Horse rides!

Steve

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