Law in the Internet Society

Out with the Ten and Two and in with the Click

-- By NathalieNoura - 17 Jan 2022

Lesson One: Parallel Parking

Do you remember feeling in control and free when you first drove a car on your own? For as long as I can remember that was the theme of car commercials, an expression of freedom. Now imagine a commercial for a self-driving car. You turn on the car remotely with a click and it arrives to your doorstep. You ask it to take you to work. You relax, read the news, or scroll Instagram or Twitter for your daily dose of social media. On the way the car suggests getting coffee at Starbucks. The car also suggests picking up your dry cleaning on the way from Dave's Laundromat. It has everything to do with relaxing and nothing to do with control and freedom. No need to learn how to parallel park. In the past century, people have become obsessed with the idea of digital everything: dating, groceries, teaching, tracking ovulation dates, paying bills, listening to music, and driving. Self-driving cars (SCs) are another attempt to use technology and the net to solve a problem while creating an even bigger one. SCs attempt to make driving safer, available to people with disabilities and free our time for more important tasks. However, in practice and not in commercials, SCs are not safer and threaten privacy and freedom. I aim to discuss that threat.

Autonomous or Remote Controlled?

Self-driving cars rely on high-tech cameras and ultra-precise GPS data. As such, SCs collect large amount of data about operators, passengers, pedestrians, and other people recorded by the cars' sensors. The data include camera images, activities, video clips, biometric data, user contacts, map data, location, speed, date and time, owner or passenger information, navigation history, audio and video content inside the cabin and its surroundings. For example, an abundance of location data provides a detailed record of the movements of the operator, passenger, or pedestrians recorded by the sensors that reveal features about their familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations like trips to the psychiatrist, plastic surgeon, abortion clinic, strip club, hotel, church, mosque or synagogue, gay bar, etc. Sensors also record private conversations inside the vehicle. Gone are the days when you would go to your car to have a private conversation. Such private data will be available to hackers, private companies, and governments. Passengers can opt out of this invasion of privacy by refusing to get in the car, but phone conversations may still be recorded. However, pedestrians or people in their cars cannot opt out because the data is collected without their knowledge or consent. Accordingly, if you are walking into a psychiatrist's office, you may be recorded by an SC passing by. Such invasion of privacy, data collection, and surveillance affects individuals' autonomy and freedom. First, the psychological meaning of driving will change. With Levels 4 and 5 of SCs , the operator is no longer in control of the vehicle. The car is controlled by software program which the operator cannot amend. The program will pick routes and is automated to respect traffic laws including speed limits and permitted parking spaces. You are unable to go over the speed limit or run a traffic light for fun or in a case of emergency. You cannot even pull over to the side of the road to grab something from your local store. Additionally, a hacker, private company, or government may be able to remotely take control of the car steer it in a different direction, steal it, turn it on or off, or drive it off a cliff. Aside from not having control over the vehicle, SCs threaten Fourth Amendment rights. Reasonable expectation of privacy applicable under the Fourth Amendment is diminished in vehicles. Imagine if a cop can remotely turn off the car or retrieve the SCs data without a search warrant, based only on probable cause. Another risk would be to qualify operators of Levels 4 and 5 SCs as passengers rather than drivers and thereby strip them from the right to challenge a search and seizure warrant. Finally, all the data collected by private companies can be used to alter our behavior to maximize profits. Companies are investing billions of dollars to make more than sales profits. They plan to profit off marketing. The car would suggest service providers and restaurants, and choose routes based on advertisements paid by these parties. The only reason you dropped off your laundry at Dave's Laundromat was because SC suggested it, and SC suggested it because Dave's Laundromat paid for that advertisement. This would apply to everything else. Surveillance Capitalism would have found a new more effective host than a mere smartphone or laptop.

Get Back in the Driver's Seat

The Control and freedom that one gets from driving a car will be forever changed. It's true that everyone has the freedom to choose whether to buy SCs and relinquish their privacy interests, control, and freedom to companies and governments. However, that is not true for the disabled and elderly, passengers, pedestrians, and other people. Additionally, just like governments have previously decommissioned old cars or imposed higher taxes on them, the same may someday apply to SCs. One suggestion is to impose strict restrictions on Levels 4 and 5 SCs including limited licensing and enhanced security to prevent hacking. Furthermore, SC programs must be subject to amendment by the operator to grant them more control on its features, save for basic functional ones that are necessary. For example, a car owner might choose to opt out of suggestions or recording of internal conversations, to allow the car to park in random spaces, to anonymize the data that SCs collect, etc. Legislation must also be proactive instead of reactive. It can expand Fourth Amendment rights to SCs like requiring a warrant at all times, force companies to dump data, prohibit them from selling data to third parties and using any recorded data, except for the necessary function of the car and its safety.

It would be useful to put a time scale on the diagram. In what year, or even decade, is the use of individual robot transportation going to approach this level of service? What commute of the sort you anticipate can a robot drive, in which terrain and weather. Are we talking about Denver or Dubai? If the subject were instead autonomous long-haul trucking, driving loads across North America or Australia, on highways that effectively exclude non-autonomous vehicles, pedestrians, etc. and which have no grade-level crossings, what would be your objections and concerns? This is more technically feasible and more economically valuable in the short run. Autonomous small bus and truck service makes much more sense than one-passenger cars, and is both technically and socially simpler to achieve. You are letting Musk tell you what to smoke too soon.

So some attention both to technical reality and to alternative social possibility will let you take your ideas to some other interesting places.


Webs Webs

r2 - 06 Feb 2022 - 21:00:15 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM