Big Brother is visiting Boston

Most often people will believe bad news much easier than good news, displaying a general sense of pessimism that is part of the human soul. But sometimes it is really hard to believe what kind of madness politicians come up with: The Governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Deval Patrick, is currently concerned with the state’s budget. Well, the times are tough, and it is understandable that we either have to cut programs, raise taxes, or both. These are hard decisions, and I do not envy anyone having to take them.

However, one suggestion Mr. Patrick made yesterday immediately got my attention: there are apparently plans on the table to introduce a “chip” in the state’s vehicle inspection stickers, so that cars can be tracked as they use the Commonwealth’s highway system. What might seem like a prudent idea to shift the cost of the transportation infrastructure to those that are causing them, is in reality an attempt to introduce an Orwellian surveillance system of European proportions.

It is bad enough that the private industry (in the form of the wireless carriers) have a rather comprehensive location profile of all their customers. Yet, it is really easy to turn of the cell phone, leave it at some place, or switch to another cell phone, in case one wants to obfuscate one’s location. However, even in Massachusetts it is rather hard to get around without having to resort to using a car. Within the 128 belt this might be manageable, but once you get beyond 495 it becomes impossible. Mandating a tracking and surveillance device in vehicles for tax purposes will now create a gigantic database with rather sensitive information. The potential for abuse is scary:

  • With location data, one can attempt to create a political profile by tracking conventions, conferences, and events a person goes to. I am not a lawyer, but this seems to be getting rather close to infringing a couple of First Amendment rights.
  • The collected data can be subpoena in all kinds of litigations, including sensitive things like divorce proceedings or insurance disputes.
  • If the database is ever breached, the hacker could have a field day, exposing location profiles of individuals. Depending on whose data is stolen, this could actually result in increased personal risk for exposed persons.

There are a lot more things that can go wrong, so this bill must never even come close to being considered.


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