Chapell & Associates

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Enlisting Cellphone Signals to Fight Road Gridlock

New York Times - November 11, 2005
Some states prohibit drivers from talking on hand-held cellphones lest they become distracted, slow down traffic, or worse, cause an accident. Others are finding that cellphones and driving may not be so bad together. Several state transportation agencies, including those in Maryland and Virginia, are starting to test technology that allows them to monitor traffic by tracking cellphone signals and mapping them against road grids. The technology underlines how readily cellphones can become tracking devices for private companies, law enforcement and government agencies - a development that deeply troubles privacy advocates. These new traffic systems can monitor several hundred thousand cellphones at once. The phones need only be turned on, not necessarily be in use. And advanced software now makes it possible to discern whether a signal is coming from, say, a moving car or a pedestrian. State officials say that the systems will monitor large clusters of phones, not individual ones, and that the benefits could be substantial. By providing a constantly updated picture of traffic flow across thousands of miles of highways, they maintain, cellphone tracking can help transportation agencies spot congestion and divert drivers with radio alerts or updated electronic road signs.

The Chapell View
There's a part of me that doesn't want to worry about this - after all, the Government tends to be pretty inept when it comes to storing and gather large amounts of data. And it's not abundantly clear to me how the capture of this data is going to benefit citizens and aide traffic reports anymore than say "Dave in the News 12 Chopper" already helps.

And the only way for someone to opt-out of this system is to turn their cell phone off, which kind of defeats the purpose for having a cell phone.

I'd be curious if this program would survice a challenge based upon the Telecommunications Act.

I grew up watching some of the 80's Action/Sci Fi flicks, many of which contemplated a future where nobody would get off the public grid. It's amazing how prophetic these movies have been - even the cheesy Aaahnold Shwartzenegger flicks.

It's bad enough that NYC subway riders are at risk of having their bags searched upon entry. What's next - a speeding ticket that's billed right to your cell phone? Land of the Free - not so fast...
posted by Alan on Saturday, November 12, 2005

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