Back in 1998, sci-fi TV series The X-Files aired an episode called “Kill Switch” about an AI gone rogue. Told when the internet was still accessed by most using dial-up modems, it was a fascinating tale of technology run amuck, a message about not handing too much of your life over to the digital world. While it might also seem like a sci-fi tale, soon enough the United States federal government could force automakers to install kill switches authorities can access and use to shut down any newer vehicle.
To many, that might sound like a wonderful idea. After all, we’ve seen wanted criminals who have fled from police only to crash into a car with a family inside, killing innocents as they try to avoid capture. Being able to stop the pursuit early and almost instantaneously seems like a wonderful thing, a potential lifesaver any law-abiding citizen would enthusiastically embrace.
According to an article written by former U.S. Representative Bob Barr, hidden away in the recently passed infrastructure bill, the very one I warned before would negatively impact drivers across the country if it were to pass, is a measure to install vehicle kill switches into every new car, truck, and SUV sold in this country. The regulation likely won’t be enforced for five years, so maybe there’s time to do something about this.
As we’ve seen both in this country and others recently, what constitutes “law-abiding” can change drastically overnight. For example, in September a car was pulled over in New Zealand and the occupants arrested when police discovered the trunk was full of Kentucky Fried Chicken meals. They were smuggling the fast food to customers in locked-down Auckland, against quarantine measures. Yet not too long before, delivering restaurant orders to people was considered a reputable, legal activity.
It gets even better: Barr points out that the bill, which has been signed into law by President Biden, states that the kill switch, which is referred to as a safety device, must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” In other words, Big Brother will constantly be monitoring how you drive. If you do something the system has been programmed to recognize as driver impairment, your car could just shut off, which could be incredibly dangerous.
There is the possibility the kill switch program might measure your driving as impaired, then when you try to start the car up again the engine won’t fire up. That would potentially leave you stranded.
But wait, there’s more. This kill switch “safety” system would be open, or in other words there would be a backdoor. That would allow police or other government authorities to access it whenever. Would they need a warrant to do that? Likely not. Even better, hackers could access the backdoor and shut down your vehicle.
Barr points out what a tremendous violation of Americans’ privacy this is, and he’s right. In addition, the term “impaired driving” isn’t defined by the legislation, so it would be open to interpretation by regulators such as the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Do you want government regulators helping to write algorithms which might force your car to pull over and stop because you might be a little tired instead of tipsy? There was never a debate on the House or Senate floor about this issue. Instead, this bill was passed through with many backroom deals I detailed out before here, if you care to learn more about that.
It’s time for not only car enthusiasts but also regular Americans to get loud and tell their US Representatives and Senators what they think of laws like these. Obviously, our elected officials don’t care too much about our safety or privacy, so we need to remind them what we expect now and moving forward.
Check out Barr’s article here.