OBDIII – The “Green” Trojan Horse

New legislation on emissions testing threatens privacy and 4th Amendment Rights, but what's worse is that local businesses and economies lose the most.

Brea, CA (PRWEB) December 8, 2009

- Imagine a device that is attached to your car that can monitor your driving. One tiny computer that can properly track your routes, the times you traveled, your rates of acceleration, braking, and the effect your vehicular propensities had on your miles per gallon; that by tracking your driving habits you could potentially change them to more properly reflect what the dealers say you get per gallon on your car. Furthermore, consider that this very same device can measure every aspect of your car’s electronic and mechanical systems, as well as conduct system-wide scans to identify potential repair work that would deter major breakdowns, parts replacements, and help maintain a cleaner environment altogether. Now imagine that the government can access this information whenever they see fit.

The upside to all of this is that such a device for tracking your driving habits already exists; however, maintains a plug-in requirement to retrieve any of the information stored inside your car’s On-Board Diagnostics computer (OBDII). In short, Big Brother’s watchful eye remains blind to all of your whereabouts and bad habits on the road, for now – and while OBDIII may still be years away, there is an intrigue within State Legislatures that has initiated an industry press on developing adaptive technologies that seem poised to become the future of emissions programs across the nation.

OBDII technology – standard on every car sold In the United States since model year 1999 – has been accepted as an emissions industry grail in efficiently determining polluters, and in preemptively identifying mechanical issues before they become hazardous to roadway users and the public health. Early identification (that pugnacious ‘Check Engine’ light) has proven to be a vital utility in harnessing repair costs, cutting emissions output and improving fuel efficiency, all of which ultimately cuts the total cost of, and yields a higher return on investment for your automobile. OBDIII takes it one step further.

OBDIII, a.k.a. Remote OBD or Future OBD, has already undergone legislation in Oregon and Nevada (NV Assembly Bill 414, passed in May 2009) and pilot programs in California and Denver, where governments have attached devices to public and volunteer vehicles. The technology works through telemetry; utilizing cellular and satellite networks to relay information from your car’s OBD computer, the data is then retrieved wirelessly either by roadside readers, mobile vans, or satellite uplinks (think of toll road transponders and attribute that to your car’s computer). The early applications have been primarily used to track fleet vehicles, with the City of Denver conducting the largest study to date, attaching Remote OBD devices to 430 vehicles, both public and citizen.

The results of the Denver study inarguably generated vast reductions in pollution by each of the participating vehicles (over 50% fuel savings in some vehicles), something we can most all agree to be a mark to strive for; however, the very heart of the proposal calls into question man’s, and in particular – government’s – ability to restrain itself with information access. In the wake of the controversial NSA Wiretapping Program, the Patriot Act, and America’s torrid history with keeping the government from encroaching on our 4th Amendment rights; supporting a program that ferments government intrusion into the lives of citizens seems foolhardy.

So glaringly obvious are the potential constitutional issues with OBDIII, that it led Sierra Research – a prominent California technology and research firm, and advocates of OBDIII technology – to state the following on April 27, 1999: in an “Update on Legal and Public Acceptance Issues Associated with OBDIII” report to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Sierra states:

“The OBD III program is a suspicionless search because CARB has no reason to suspect that a particular vehicle has a defective emissions control system or excessive emissions, but nevertheless requires the vehicle computer to monitor for and report information concerning compliance with CARB regulations.”

Beyond Orwellian fears of “Big Brother” peering into our personal lives, OBDIII poses an immediate danger to local economies, as well. Much of the reason that State Legislators have found favor with the program is for its “drastic” reductions in State costs associated with operating an emissions program. The thinking is that by streamlining emissions testing into one pre-packaged bureaucracy by using roadside readers, satellite/cellular relay, mobile trucks, and the oversight agency, the costs to the State will be driven down for not having to purchase machines and maintain inspection facilities. However, decentralized programs are generally constructed so that facility maintenance and machine purchasing falls solely upon independent shop owners who opt to participate in the program. When the machines are removed from those facilities, what is truly taken is a revenue stream that stimulates capital circulation through the local economy and creates jobs. So government gains, while local citizens lose out.

The total cost of OBDIII is passed down to more than just local business in its lost revenue. Estimates for the devices place the unit cost at up to $225; that becomes a cumbersome hike in the bottom line of new car purchases for the consumer, or the fee to retrofit an existing OBDII system with a remote. Beyond new OBDIII-ready cars, any car not equipped with an OBDIII module either has to be retrofitted with one (likely at consumer cost) or undergo an already existing type of testing, which means that regardless of remote capability, the State would still need to maintain inspection facilities in addition to the new technology. This necessity for two technologies would ultimately inflate the program costs.

Proposed enforcement comes in two forms: law enforcement pullovers, or mailed citations. It’s hard to imagine that Americans would agree with law enforcement hours and tax dollars being spent on pulling over emissions offenders, as opposed to patrolling the streets, and in this nation, no citation is cheap. Tack on the costs of paperwork, clerical work, and mailings, and the program cost again rises for the State, while costs associated with citations only exacerbate the already rising costs of registration and the looming potential costs of repairs. More of America’s personal wealth feeding into the government system, as currently in Virginia, a fine under a similar program has a ceiling of $680 – for an emissions violation!

And what of this Orwellian fear, where government has access to your car’s diagnostic system? One advantage of the program is the ability to disable vehicles, say for instance, in the case of a high speed pursuit. Though just like the Internet and anything else that’s vulnerable to hacks, is it really only the government who has access? Is it not pragmatic to think that having sensitive information, such as VIN and GPS-Tracking, stored in wireless transfers may create an environment ripe for unlawful access to other personal information, such as home addresses? So that any person may have their car disabled by a thrill-seeking hacker, or worse yet, be stalked or tracked so that a would-be assailant knows when you’re not at home, or more worrisome, when you are?

The two-headed monster such a program would create with the insistent Mileage Tax proposals further deepens this argument into intrusive government taxing our driving habits, but that’s a fear for another piece.
No, it wouldn’t seem that OBDIII’s environmental impact outweighs the loss to local businesses, the increase in unemployment, the excessive costs to consumers, the safety fears, or the 4th Amendment intrusion concerns that it carries with it like engine sludge. And if it does for you, then may I suggest lo-jacking your car and taking a look at the websites below, because they offer the environmental impact advantages such a program would have without any of the intrusive drawbacks. While you’re at it, write your congressperson an email and tell them to keep their eyes off your odometer.