Court leaves possibility for vehicle safety system wiretaps


PDA






Preacherman
January 2, 2004, 08:11 PM
From the NYT News Service (http://www4.fosters.com/autos/articles_2004/auto_1226_03c.asp):

January 2, 2004

Court leaves the door open for vehicle safety system wiretaps

By ADAM LIPTAK

People who buy sophisticated safety and communications systems for their cars may be getting an unwanted feature. An appeals court decision last month revealed that the government may be able to convert some of the systems into roaming in-car wiretaps.

The decision, by a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, arose from a criminal investigation in Nevada. An unidentified company challenged a series of court orders requiring it to create a roving bug for the FBI. The appeals court overturned the orders, but its reasoning suggested that the issue will recur.

The technology involved, used by OnStar, ATX and others, combines a global positioning satellite transmitter with a cellular telephone. Drivers can use the services to seek information and emergency help.

Most of the court file in the Nevada case is sealed, and the appellate decision did not discuss the nature of the investigation or specify the brand of the system in question. But the court’s description of the system’s features is consistent with one offered by ATX, which provides telematics services for cars from BMW, Ford, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, among others.

The device discussed in the decision allows drivers to punch one of three buttons: for emergencies, general information and roadside assistance. The phone has a speaker and microphone, and it turns out that the microphone may be activated surreptitiously, allowing government agents to listen in on conversations in the car.

Geri Lama, a spokeswoman for OnStar, said that her company was not involved in the case and that OnStar’s setup was not capable of what she called "stealth listening." "Any time we call into the vehicle, it rings," she said, adding that if a car is stolen, OnStar can retrieve data about its location but cannot eavesdrop on the people inside.

OnStar, a subsidiary of GM, is the leading provider of telematics services, not only for GM vehicles but also models from Acura, Audi, Isuzu, Lexus, Subaru and Volkswagen.

Neither Bennee B. Jones, the Dallas lawyer who represented the company in the case, nor Gary A. Wallace, an ATX spokesman, responded to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment. ATX is based in Irving, Texas, near Dallas. Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Las Vegas, declined to comment.

The appeals court decision, rendered after the wiretapping had concluded, ruled that the lower-court judge should not have allowed it. But the appellate ruling was narrow, based on the fact that safety features of the system in question had to be disabled to permit the government to listen in.

The majority had no objection in principle to converting the device into a bug; a dissenter would have allowed the eavesdropping even at the expense of safety. The government indicated that it would ask either the three-judge panel or a larger panel of the appeals court to reconsider the decision.

Privacy advocates on both sides of the political spectrum said the decision raised troubling questions about in-car communications devices.

"If the facts were just a little bit different," said Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Information Privacy Center, a civil liberties group, "law enforcement would have won this case."

Bob Barr, a former congressman from Georgia and former federal prosecutor, agreed. "People ought to boycott such systems," he said.

In the Nevada investigation, the company had to disable two of the device’s three buttons - for general information and for roadside assistance - to allow the eavesdropping. A third button, for emergencies, continued to work, in a way.

But pressing the button would not have contacted the company. Instead, the device would have emitted a tone over an open line monitored solely by federal agents, assuming they were listening at the time.

"The FBI, however well-intentioned, is not in the business of providing emergency road services," Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote for the majority. In dissent, Judge Richard C. Tallman said the government should have been allowed to use "an important investigative tool."

Hoofnagle said that other courts might rule differently and that the companies providing such services might face financial and political pressure to alter their technology to allow eavesdropping. "It’s more likely than not that manufacturers of these devices will build in a back-door facility for wiretapping," Hoofnagle said. He added that it was cheaper to comply with court orders than to challenge them.

Barr said market pressure from consumers who are not eager to facilitate wiretapping would not be enough. "I hate to say this as a conservative," he said, "but the only way we can guard against misuse is through federal legislation."

If you enjoyed reading about "Court leaves possibility for vehicle safety system wiretaps" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
7.62FullMetalJacket
January 2, 2004, 08:55 PM
The majority had no objection in principle to converting the device into a bug; a dissenter would have allowed the eavesdropping even at the expense of safety.

OK. I am ripping the On-Star out.


Bob Barr, a former congressman from Georgia and former federal prosecutor, agreed. "People ought to boycott such systems," he said.

OK

"It’s more likely than not that manufacturers of these devices will build in a back-door facility for wiretapping," Hoofnagle said. He added that it was cheaper to comply with court orders than to challenge them.

Not Good

Barr said market pressure from consumers who are not eager to facilitate wiretapping would not be enough. "I hate to say this as a conservative," he said, "but the only way we can guard against misuse is through federal legislation."

So the Imperial Federal Government has grown so bold as eavesdrop without a warrant. And providers of these services feel that it is cheaper to comply with the needs of the Imperial Federal Government than fight them.

:cuss: :banghead: :fire: :what: :mad:

submin
January 2, 2004, 09:31 PM
This makes me suspicious of all electronics I come in contact with. I've been unplugging my phone when I feel I'm being invaded by invisible tyrants.

Come to think about it, a speaker looks a lot like a microphone. Geesh. I'm looking at my stereo with a critical eye.

Maybe if I turn my TV toward the wall and hang a pic of Clinton saluting Stalin in front of it, I might look like less of an adversary to them.

What other equipment have they been back-dooring us with?

Spooky.

carpettbaggerr
January 2, 2004, 11:38 PM
Just wrap your cellphone in aluminum foil. Use the heavy duty stuff, and make sure it's shiny side in. Actually, you can wrap most electronics in foil to prevent eavesdropping. :scrutiny:

w4rma
January 3, 2004, 04:51 AM
Submin, I would suggest that you turn your TV toward the wall and hang a pic of Bush saluting Hitler in front of it, instead.

Last I checked, Bush dispised Clinton and it's Bush and the rest of the Republican leadership who have the political power and it is Bush and the GOP leadership pushing through this anti-American Enabling Act crap.

If you enjoyed reading about "Court leaves possibility for vehicle safety system wiretaps" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!