The government can turn off your car

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/10/2007 - 08:52

It must have been a slow news day yesterday. During a long drive, I heard a news story on the radio at least ten times. It was about a new capability added to GM cars and trucks equipped with Onstar. The vehicle can now be turned off remotely. The news story was all about what a boon this was going to be to law enforcement officials, who could request that the friendly Onstar person turn off the engine in a car being chased by the police.

This sounds benign enough until you start thinking about it a bit. Suppose you get behind on your car payments. Will the bank be able to ask Onstar to disable your vehicle until you pay up? Suppose you owe back taxes; can the IRS request that your vehicle be disabled until you pay? Owe a traffic ticket? Can the local police department, which already knows what vehicle you are driving from the ticket, request that your vehicle be disabled until the fine is paid?

What I have not been able to determine yet is whether or not the vehicle owner can disable this option. If the owner cannot turn this option in the vehicle itself, it is a major privacy issue and a property rights issue. If the government can decide when you are able to drive a car you purchased yourself, you really don't own the car anymore. The government does, and can decide what you do with the vehicle and when you can and cannot drive.

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