Orwell’s National Tour: Visiting Oregon

After my initial irritation about Massachusetts Governor Patrick ideas about creating a state-wide Big Brother register of citizen’s location died down, I just heard this morning about another state ignoring the “right to be left alone”: Oregon is rolling out a GPS based car tracking system pilot for taxing highway usage based on mileage.

Aside from the fact that this is one of the worst ways of invading the privacy of motorists that one can possibly think of[1], there are some obvious absurdities associated with such a system:

  1. It will cost a lot of money and time to build a surveillance system that is capable of tracking all cars on all highways at all time. The money wasted on spying on citizens would be better spent on repairing roads.

  2. Since the current federal administration does not seem to be supportive of this idea (as Secretary Gibbs indicated), there will be initially a slew of local, most likely non-interoperable systems, that can only track the cars registered in a particular state. Out-of-staters will have to be free-riders or they cannot use the state’s highway system. Imagine that: “No New Hampshire cars are allowed on Massachusetts highways” … ouch!

  3. Eco-friendly cars with excellent gas mileage will be disadvantaged under the current plan to replace the gas tax with a mileage-based system: they will not qualify as zero-emission vehicles (like electric cars that get charged on coal- or oil-generated electricity) and thus buying an efficent car will be discouraged. Unless – of course – the mileage tax is only in addition to the existing gas tax.

  4. There will be security breaches – that is just a fact of live. The best way to avoid additional PII data being stolen is not to collect the data in the first place.

What I find most annoying and telling is the fact that there is already a very simple and obvious solution to tax per mile: as far as I know every state already has a yearly safety inspection, at which the odometer reading is read. The states could then prorate past usage to determine a monthly (or yearly) street usage fees, WITHOUT having to invade people’s personal lifes.


[1] It is on par with the absurd German proposal of a “Strecken Radar” – a system that keeps tracks of all cars between two points to determine the average speed and automatically write speeding tickets.

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