Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Your car has officially signed on with all relevant authorities to:
-Notify police when you transgress.
-Assist the police in your apprehension
-Waive your Fifth Amendment rights and provide evidence to assist in your conviction.


I'm mostly kidding. Really.

OnStar, the vehicle assistance program available in most GM models has announced two new features to assist subscribers when their vehicles are stolen..."Remote Ignition Block" and "Stolen Vehicle Slowdown". On the face of it, these two things trigger the following reaction in me...Cool Beans!

Your car gets stolen; you call the cops, you call OnStar. Voila! OnStar gives the cops a GPS location for your car, they activate the anti-theft stuff and cops recover you car. How cool is that?

On the other hand, this inspires a certain level of both the "healthy" and "whackjob" varieties of paranoia in me. Do you really think that cops will never use this technology for anything other than recovering stolen vehicles for their rightful owners from nefarious evil-doers? No! You don't either.

Oh, sure...it'll start with cops contacting OnStar because they see an obviously drunk driver who won't stop. Boom! Some cooperative service rep at OnStar slows the guy's car to Zero MPH and the cops get a dangerous guy off the road.

And maybe next, they'll be chasing a bank robber who makes the mistake of using his very own OnStar-equipped GM car as a get-away vehicle. Ta-daaaaaa! Bad guy hoist on his own petard!

I'm sure there's some small print in OnStar's contract that supposedly prohibits OnStar reps from activating these features for anything other than their stated purpose. I'd wager there's even some rule against activating them for any reason while the car is being operated by their own subscriber. But c'mon! How likely is that to stop some civic-minded OnStar rep from just being helpful to the cops. Hey, who cares if he's our customer...he's breaking the law and we can help the cops!

And then, there's the cops who might...uh...misrepresent what some driver is doing. Some cop thinks his wife is cheating on him with a guy driving a 2010 Chevy Equinox? Kill his car with a theft investigation. Maybe the cops miss one of the guys holed up in a hotel room who was Tweeting G-20 protesters on police movements? No Problem. The guy drives a GM pickup truck.

Bear in mind...I have no plans to buy a new car any time soon, and I certainly have no plans to commit any felonies (or even really bad misdemeanors), but I don't think I'd be rushing out to buy a GM car anyway. It seems a little like buying a house that's equipped to call the police to rat me out if I have any bad thoughts. Then it'll lock me in while waiting for the cops to arrive, and invite them in to arrest me when they get there.

And I can't decide how serious I'm being with this post vs. tongue-in-cheek* about the whole thing...but it's probably more than a little telling that these are the first thoughts that occurred to me when I saw these features advertised.

*You may now all take this opportunity to be as snarky or as frothy as you choose about the whole thing.

Ready? Begin!


Eric said...

Enh, for the police to be able to do this, GM has to have paid its phone bill and still have employees working the lines. How likely is that?

Chris said...

I like the way you think Nathan. I'm sure OnStar has nothing but the best intentions with this feature. But as the saying goes, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

Poetry of Flesh said...

If I was a (male) cop, I would sit on a corner looking for hot women to drive by and then have their car slowly coast to a halt and then I would heroically swoop in to "assist" them after a thorough "search" and possible general "frisking".

I need more police-related activities to put in needless quotes to make myself sound more lecherous.

ntsc said...

Most modern cars, not to mention GPS devices, have some memory of how fast they have been driven recently.

Anybody want to bet the police won't use that as evidence? Other entity's records of you are not yours, and the police do not need to tell you that they are being looked at. In many jurisdictions it is illegal for the entity which holds the records to mention to you that they have been turned over to Agency X.

If I recall about 3 years ago libraries couldn't even sue to overturn such laws because that would require them to inform the courts they had been questioned and the law forbade that.

Eric probably has a better idea of what I think I am remembering there.

Or in the words of Jim Wright, I'm from Microsoft and I'm here to help you.

Janiece said...

GM would never do such a thing. After all, they're not beholden to the government, or anything...

Oh. Yeah.


WendyB_09 said...

I believe much of that kind of data from GM is now in Chinese...

vince said...

Unfortunately, just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Like a lo of things that can be used for good, it can also be used for evil. But I bet sooner or later asomeone will figure out a hack that allows the good while making the evil more difficult.