While Ford’s VP of Global Marketing and Sales has since tried to retract his statements, it is fairly obvious that his original assertion that “[Ford] know[s] everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing.” is, in fact, spot-on the truth. While Ford may not be currently doing nefarious things with the data is collects from the GPS devices is it now installing in all of its vehicles, it does highlight the fact that companies that create products we buy and own are now collecting data on us over which we, as consumers, have zero control or ownership.
Data collection of this scope and nature raises huge privacy concerns, and certainly offers even further potential in-roads for the government to collect surveillance data on individuals. As you may be aware, recent court decisions have held that law enforcement cannot palce GPS trackers on automobiles without first obtaining a warrant from a court to do so. With the collection of this kind of data by car companies such as Ford, there is now no deed for law enforcement to obtain a warrant to track a suspect. They can simply demand the records maintained by Ford, for which, based on current case law, there is no requirement for a warrant.
While I am neither a Luddite decrying the dangers of technology, nor a paranoiac assuming that either the Governement or “Big Business” are out to get us, this sort of widespread and pervasive data collection clearly points out the need for a robust public debate over the meaning and boundaries of privacy in the digital age. While there is immense good (economic, social, and otherwise) that we can do with all the data we are now capable of (and are in fact) collecting and analyzing, there comes with it significant dangers of destroying personal privacy altogether and eroding the civil rights accorded to U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution.
While this debate had begun to come to the forefront of many people’s consciousness with the revelations of the activities of the NSA by Snowden, it is increasingly clear that the definition of privacy and privacy rights of individuals (and even businesses) is something that requires wide ranging thought, analysis, robust public debate, and in the end decisive legal action. Both our economy and our personal freedoms depend the outcome of the process. We cannot simply afford to sit by and “see what happens”. The statekes are far to great.