The article mentions safety and privacy but doesn't mention the opportunity for litigation and blame when recording the exact speed at the moment of impact.
General Motors will begin installing new sensors and communications systems into vehicles next year that could save lives but will surely raise privacy concerns.
AACN is one of the car industry's most high-profile attempts to use telematics, the emerging field of dashboard-embedded communication devices, to help emergency dispatchers better understand the nature of an accident and determine what equipment or
procedures medics might need to administer.
But privacy advocates and attorneys question whether the powerful system could become an agent for continual surveillance. Although drivers must agree to have the hardware installed and must pay $16.95 (£10) per month for service, privacy advocates
worry that the data GM collects could fall into the hands of third parties that range from police or government agents to research firms trying to track consumer habits.
Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, applauded GM for its effort to reduce car-related casualties. But he also said the technology could fall victim to "function creep" -- eventually morphing into a 24-hour
surveillance system for authorities. This represents a very significant opportunity to track people in their cars. I'd be concerned not only that GM could have to turn in historical data it has collected under a court order or subpoena, but also
whether eventually cops could use this technology to tap into a car's signal in real time.
GM executives insist that lawyers have carefully vetted AACN and they're betting that safety advantages will trump privacy issues for most consumers. In the 2006 model year, GM will provide it as a standard feature or option on all of its models.
GM, which provides OnStar service for Lexus, Acura, Audi and Subaru brands, will also offer AACN to other manufacturers as an option or standard feature.
The technology hinges on a small computer embedded in the dashboard between the driver and passenger seats and called the Sensing Diagnostic Module -- what GM engineers call the "brains" behind AACN.
SDM receives input from other sensors throughout the vehicle, including those in side panels, seats and the engine area. It also records the number of occupants in the car at any given time, the vehicle's speed and the region of the vehicle that may
have been hit.
In case of an accident, the SDM crunches an algorithm to determine the severity of impact, using a standard scale developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The SDM then relays that information to an OnStar adviser, who may
then phone an emergency medical technician, local hospital or 911 dispatcher.
A dispatcher might also warn medics that one or more occupants were children, who often require different-sized clamps or paddles in emergency procedures. Most new vehicles already have so-called suppression sensors in the seats to determine the
weight of the occupants, chiefly to shield smaller occupants from the full force of an airbag release. In GM vehicles, people less than 90 pounds are considered to be children, and passengers more than 90 pounds are considered as adults.
Although few people doubt GM's intentions to help save lives, privacy advocates say the technology could have negative consequences. Lawyers say AACN could spark a number of interesting legal debates.
For instance, could a crash victim get the data to prove that he or she was driving within the speed limit -- but that the person who struck the car was driving too fast? If the data showed that a person frequently parked the car outside bars or off
licences, then drove away at extreme speeds or swerved erratically, could that person be accused of drink-driving -- even if that person wasn't stopped by the police at the time?
David Sobel, general council for the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Centre, also had concerns about the nature of AACN registration. The feature is one of many services offered by OnStar, including automated stock quotes, driving
directions and concierge services for ticket buying and restaurant reservations. Sobel said many people might opt for AACN because of safety perks but not be aware of the tracking function. Many people are likely to give consent in case of an
accident, but the point is to make sure that the driver understands what data is being collected, what triggers the data collection and where it's reported.
GM executives said Wednesday they have no intention of selling the data collected by OnStar, or using it for nonemergency purposes. But Lange acknowledged that the data could leave GM if the company were subpoenaed. We do not release any
information we collect, absent a direct, written authorization with the owner or some kind of court order to which we must respondBut privacy and integrity is very important to us .