Orwell Would Be Proud

Written by Bjenning Oct 05, 2007

Ladies and gentlemen, a straw poll if you’ll indulge me. How many people drive a car? How many critique their parents when their parents drive the car? How many people have parents who critique them when the roles are reversed? How many people have their parents install a GPS reciever that immediately sends an email to the parent’s email address whenever you drive faster than 70 miles per hour?

Last question made you stop and scratch your head I’d be willing to bet. Well obviously, you haven’t been following the news recently. When I first saw the headline, I thought “Oh cool! A way that I can actually fight an unfair speeding ticket? Sign me up!” And then I read this:

“He and Karen Kahn, Malone’s mother, stress that the goal of the GPS tracker is not to help the teen beat a ticket but to make him a safer driver.

The system sends out a data signal every 30 seconds that reports the car’s speed, location and direction. It’s designed so that if the teen driver ever hits 70 mph, his parents receive an e-mail alert.”

WHAT?! I’m sorry. I must have read that wrong. Hold on…

Nope, I was right. It’s weird, all those words make sense, but seeing them used together in a sentence like that is definitely a new experience.

So parents can now track your driving from the safety of your home computer? They know how fast you’re driving and where exactly you are at any given time? Sounds innocent right? “Only those who’ve done something wrong have anything to fear,” you might say. I suppose you may have a point there, except, the thing about living in America, the wonderful thing about it, is that we don’t do things that way. You’re allowed to do what you want and no one has a right to watch over you like Big Brother unless they have reason to think you’re breaking the law.

“But teenagers are untrustworthy and don’t listen to what parents say!” you might also say. You’re going to make the case that teenagers are less trustworthy than 35 year olds? While I don’t think there’s been any studies done on the subject, I’d be willing to bet teenagers lies about as often as the average person and can be trusted about as far. However, the average adult doesn’t need to answer for their actions nearly as often as the average teenager, so I think they can be forgiven for not always being forthcoming with their parents. Besides, they have as much obligation to be forthcoming to their parents as any adult would, when you’re 40, would you want your 80 year old mother to ask about your driving? Or install a GPS system in your car to make sure you stayed out of bad parts of town? You’d be rightly offended and feel disrespected.
The big issue here is trust. Parents should trust their kids enough to let them drive without an electronic watch dog. Could you imagine if all cars had this feature with the police monitoring and ticketing you every time you exceeded the speed limit in an area? There’d be a public outcry like you wouldn’t believe. Such a use would be unconstitutional (though I’d put money on Scalia and Thomas finding some reason to allow it) by any reasonable reading of the document however. Why? Because it’s a gross invasion of privacy. The fact that it would be unconstitutional for adults does not mean it’s okay for teenagers. It would be like having an alarm clock that sent your parents an email if you ever had sex without a condom (which I hear we’ll have in stores by Christmas, be on the lookout for web cams in the future, so your parents can analyze and critique your choice of positions).

The teenager in question, is rightly annoyed by it:

“A B-average student, Malone works part time to pay for gas, insurance and other car-related expenses. Should he lose in court, he also will be on the hook for the ticket, his parents said.

‘It sounds harsh, but when he got his car, we said it was going to be a cop magnet,’ Rude said.

Malone declined to be interviewed, but in an earlier story said he loathed the GPS system, which he considers an unnecessary invasion of his privacy.”

So he pays his own expenses, and for the priviledge of being allowed to do something he legally is free to do, he has to be under the microscope by his parents every time he’s out of the house. I pity him if he ever makes an unexpected detour to a CVS on the way home. Can you imagine that conversation with parents this paranoid?

“Son, I see at 8:34pm last evening you made a detour to the center of town from your normal route from John’s house to here. What were you doing?”

“Uh, I was thirsty, wanted to get a drink.”

“But if you had only waited .35 miles, you would have seen a 7-11 and been able to get a drink there.”

“They don’t sell the soda I like.”

“That neighborhood is too close to an area where a drug dealer was caught, were you buying drugs?”


“Turn out your pockets now. Rude! Go search his room, I’ll take the car.”

Oh no, imagine if he gets a girlfriend! He’ll have to account for every hour he’s gone, they’ll be able to see if he ever leaves her house.

Does anyone else find a program like this eerily reminiscent of the tele-screens from 1984? Or is it only creepy if the government does it? If parents do it it’s just good parenting? Any thoughts?




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