Ramblings & ephemera

FBI used OnStar for surveillance

From Charles R. Smith’s “Big Brother on Board: OnStar Bugging Your Car“:

GM cars equipped with OnStar are supposed to be the leading edge of safety and technology. …

However, buried deep inside the OnStar system is a feature few suspected – the ability to eavesdrop on unsuspecting motorists.

The FBI found out about this passive listening feature and promptly served OnStar with a court order forcing the company to give it access. The court order the FBI gave OnStar was not something out of the Patriot Act involving international terrorism or national security but a simple criminal case.

According to court records, OnStar complied with the order but filed a protest lawsuit against the FBI.

Yet the FBI was able to enforce the original legal order and completed its surveillance because OnStar’s lawsuit took nearly two years to pass through the court system.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in OnStar’s favor. The ruling was not based on invasion-of-privacy grounds or some other legitimate constitutional basis. The FBI lost because the OnStar passive listening feature disables the emergency signal, the very life-saving call for help that the advertisements tout as the main reason to purchase the system. …

The technical problem of blocking the emergency signal is clearly one that the FBI tech teams can overcome. Thus, under the current ruling, the FBI can resume using OnStar to monitor subject vehicles once it has solved the emergency issue.

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