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Napolitano: Is your car spying on you?

By Andrew Napolitano - | May 11, 2024

Andrew Napolitano

“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” — Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Last week, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Edward Markey of Massachusetts revealed that automobiles sold in the United States with a GPS or emergency call system accumulate the travel data of the vehicle on computer chips located in the vehicle and the vehicle manufacturers have remote access to the computer chips. They revealed this is a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that, at this writing, has gone unanswered.

The senators complained that the computer chips in late-model vehicles retain the records of the location and driving habits utilized by the operator of each vehicle.

One probably expects some of this as most GPS systems ask if you are looking for directions to a location to which you have traveled in the past. That very request on your dashboard should trigger the observation that the vehicle’s computer chip has stored the requests you have input to the GPS.

But it doesn’t stop with a record of your GPS requests. What the two senators revealed was truly startling. The computer chips record every movement and speed of the vehicle; and some vehicles — those equipped with certain sensors and exterior cameras — also record the surroundings of the location of the vehicle.

Both senators complained that Americans largely do not know that the manufacturer of the vehicle they drive has remote access to the computer chips in the vehicle, and most Americans are largely unaware that the vehicle manufacturers make this data available to the government without a search warrant.

Is this constitutional? In a word: NO.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was written to protect the quintessential American right — the natural human right — to be left alone. Justice Louis Brandeis called it the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized persons.

It presumes that you can think as you wish and say what you think and read what you want and publish what you say, that you can exclude whomever you wish — including the government — from your property and from your thoughts; that you can move around from place to place; and do all this without a government permission slip, fear of government reprisal or the government’s prying eyes.

This natural right is expressly protected by the Fourth Amendment, which requires a warrant issued by a judge based upon probable cause of crime before the government can invade your property or spy on you, directly or indirectly. When the government has access to the data in your personal vehicle, it is simultaneously invading your property and spying on you.

The warrant requirement serves three purposes.

The first is to force the government to stay in the lane of crime solving, rather than crime predicting.

The colonists loathed when the British entered their homes with general warrants ostensibly looking to see if the colonists had purchased government stamps as the Stamp Act required. The true goal of these forced entries was to search for revolutionary materials in order to help the government predict who might be planning the revolution that came in 1776.

The second purpose of the warrant requirement is to prevent fishing expeditions using general warrants. General warrants permit the bearer to search wherever he wishes and seize whatever he finds. Thus, the Fourth Amendment also requires that the warrants specifically describe the place to be searched and the person or thing to be seized.

The third and most fundamental purpose of the warrant requirement is to reduce to writing the right to privacy. All persons naturally yearn for privacy. The Framers knew this and believed they had guaranteed it in the Fourth Amendment. They were wrong.

Some have argued that the culprits with these computer chips are the vehicle manufacturers. They are wrong. The culprit is the government.

The federal Department of Transportation — found nowhere in the Constitution — mandates the specs for the computer chips installed in vehicles sold in the United States. And the recent amendment to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires all persons and entities that manufacture or install facilities that transmit data over fiber-optic cables in the U.S. to make those facilities available to the federal government’s spies.

That mandate includes the CIA, even though its charter forbids it to spy domestically or engage in domestic law enforcement; the FBI, even though the federal prosecutors for whom FBI agents work cannot use evidence in federal prosecutions obtained via surveillance without a search warrant; and the National Security Administration, the federal government’s 60,000 dedicated domestic spies, whose management falsely claims it obtains warrants from the FISA court for all its spying.

What have we here?

What we have is the slow silent erosion of personal liberty perpetrated by a Congress afraid of the intelligence community it created in 1947 and which it is supposed to regulate, enabled by every president since Ronald Reagan who has looked the other way when the spies plied their foul crafts, and carried out by nameless faceless bureaucrats with large and awful eyes whose appetites for acquiring private data about ordinary Americans as to whom there is no suspicion or probable cause of criminal behavior is utterly and literally insatiable.

Even former President Donald Trump, who was infamously the subject of unlawful and unconstitutional spying when he was a private citizen and while in the White House, has fallen for all this.

What we have here is only lip service by our elected representatives to the words, their meanings and the underlying values of the Constitution. Efforts to stop this in the House and the Senate last month fell short by a single vote in each house. And that was before the Wyden/Markey revelations about your car spying on you!

Do you know anyone who has consented to this? Who will protect us from lawless government? Don’t we know by now that sacrificing liberty for safety leads to neither?

To learn more about Judge Andrew Napolitano, visit https://JudgeNap.com.


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