Sunday, February 13, 2005

McCall: Police shouldn't track vehicles without subpoena

Should law enforcement be able to get information about your car -- e.g., where your vehicle has traveled and when, where you're going right now and how fast, how well you're driving -- from a private commercial service without your consent or a judge's review?

I'm happy to report that at least one member of the Texas House of Representatives thinks the answer should be "no," and his bill to fix the situation was one of the first ones heard in committee this session.
HB 160 is a good bill by Texas House member Brian McCall, R-Plano, which provides two new privacy protections for consumers. It would require formal disclosure about the details of any tracking system, like the much-touted OnStar system, to people who purchse or rent a vehicle. And it would require law enforcement agents to obtain a subpoena to retrieve information tracked about newer cars by commercial services.

Information that would be restricted from law enforcement without a subpoena includes a litany of things most people never consider that someone else might be tracking:

  • Speed and direction the vehicle is going
  • History of where the vehicle travels
  • Records about steering and brake performance
  • Seat belt status
The bill also covers any device that "transmits information concerning the accident to a central communications system."

There's no good reason for police to get that kind of personal information about our movements without asking a judge. And nobody should be tracked by the government or some private business without being told. I'd like it even better if the bill said the consumer had to be able to turn the tracking system entirely off. I'd also prefer that a full-blown search warrant be required instead of just a subpoena.

The bill in its current form, though, is a dramatic improvement over the status quo, which just allows police to pick up the phone and ask for the information informally.

The bill was left pending last Monday, Feb. 8, after a public hearing in the House Transportation Committee.

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