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Coupe Snoop: Congress wants all cars to be equipped with recording devices

Published time: April 19, 2012 18:14
Edited time: April 19, 2012 22:14
Reuters / Allison Joyce

Reuters / Allison Joyce

The federal government is about to become the country’s worst backseat driver. Congress wants to put tracking devices in the car of every American, and that’s not even the scariest provision in a new bill being passed around Washington.

The US Senate has already signed off on a new legislation that, if cleared by the rest of Congress, will see to it that the government gets its eyes and ears inside every automobile in the country. Senate Bill 1813 calls for the installation of mandatory recorders and communication devices in Americans’ cars that could connect the whereabouts and actions of the country’s drivers with whomever the government wants to grant access to. It doesn’t stop there, though — another provision in the proposed bill will give the government the power to revoke passports from Americans behind on their taxes, essentially making it impossible for the indebted to escape the country.

It’s being touted around the capital as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, and Congress is considering it under the explanation that the bill will “reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs.” In the abstract drafted on Capitol Hill, however, the act is described as having provisions necessary “for other purposes.” And while no lawmakers explicitly explain the benefits of some questionable content within MAP-21, what the government could get away with if the bill is passed is something eerily Orwellian.

If you’re not scared yet, then here is another eye opener: the US Senate has already approved the bill by an overwhelming vote of 74-22, leaving only the House of Representatives to vote in favor before government-sanctioned blackboxes become as common as carburetors and calibrated friction brakes. At this rate, it won’t be long before every Beetle and Buick in the country is being tracked by Big Brother.

Section 53006 of MAP-21 calls for a “vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems” deployed in the country’s cars in the near future. A copy of the bill is available online, but it isn’t until the bottom of the text that things start to get creepy. That section calls on several congressional committees — including the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives — to hear in three years’ time arguments in favor of the deployment of the communications system in question. At that point, a designated person will be asked to recommend an “implementation path for dedicated short-range communications technology and applications,” which includes “guidance on the relationship of the proposed deployment of dedicated short-range communications to the National ITS Architecture and ITS Standards.”

Sending short-wave signals to other automobiles and data hubs is one thing, but the act is also asking for mandatory event data recorders in every car. That’s the actual name, in fact, of what Congress says they want every car to have in the very near future.

“Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part,” explains the act.

The section goes on to establish that the ownership of data collected by those devices will be the sole property of the owner of the automobile, but other provisions clearly authorize a challenge to this. A court may be granted access to that information “in furtherance of a legal proceeding,” and elsewhere in the bill it says that “the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code.”

Two years after those devices are made mandatory, Congress will also hear a report that will explain “the recommendations on what, if any, additional data the event data recorder should be modified to record.”

Those without drivers licenses won’t be spared from civil liberty infringement if MAP-21 makes it out of the White House with Obama’s approval— another section says that Congress can confiscate the passports of Americans delinquent in paying their taxes. Although the US was built from the ground up by refugees escaping persecution, persons plagued by hardships in the near future won’t be afforded that same ability to escape Uncle Sam’s strengthening stranglehold.

Under Section 40304, the US State Department is allowed the powers to revoke passports from anyone determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of having “a delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.” Fifty-grand might seem like a big number for 99-percenters, but it isn’t all that outrageous or uncommon. After all, the Washington Post reported in 2010 that out of the 18,000 employees on Capitol Hill, 638 of them were behind on their taxes. What’s more, though, is that of those working within the House of Representatives, the average delinquent was indebted to the country to the tune of $15,498.

"If you're on the federal payroll and you're not paying your taxes, you should be fired," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) exclaimed at the time. Two years down the road, though, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is requesting that a citizen’s ability to travel abroad be brought to an end for being behind on their taxes. Reid was the author of Section 40304 and is presumably outside of the 4 percent of congressional staffers that owed the feds in 2010, but opponents of the act are saying that stripping passports from poor Americans isn’t a provision that is necessary for MAP-21.

“It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determination that you owe taxes,” constitutional attorney Angel Reyes tells Fox Business. “It’s a scary thought that our congressional representatives want to give the IRS the power to detain US citizens over taxes, which could very well be in dispute.”

“There are so many people that fall into that situation, and I think that’s too invasive. Especially coming out of a bad economy there are a lot of people behind on a lot of things,” adds financial adviser Clark Hodges to Fox.

There are other damning provisions in MAP-21, including a “Stop Taxhaven Abuse” section that says the government can kick any foreign jurisdiction out of the US financial system if it wants to. For American residents up to date on their income taxes and not invested abroad, however, the real dangers lie within the very real possibility that the government will soon be able to track every single automobile on the nation’s roads. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement requires a warrant if they want to install GPS tracking devices on the cars of suspected criminals, but with that decision quickly collecting opposition, a loophole might have just been brought to light by forcing consumers to purchase cars with tracking systems already installed.

Before the Supreme Court shot down the feds’ plea to allow unwarranted monitoring of automobiles in January, Justice Stephen Breyer said that a decision to not do so would be dangerous for everyone in the country. "If you win this case then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States. … So if you win, you suddenly produce what sounds like '1984',"explained Breyer.

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