Index Home About Blog
Newsgroups: comp.risks
X-issue: 17.43
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 21:52:18 -0400
From: Steve Bellovin <>
Subject: New air quality monitoring technology

*The New York Times* (22 Oct 1995) carried a frightening article on some new
air pollution control technology that's being tried out in California.  It
seems that Federal regulations require that all 1996 model cars have sensors
to notify drivers if the pollution control mechanisms aren't working; if
there's a failure, it's supposed to be repaired right away.  But what if the
motorist decides not to bother?

The California Air Control Board has decided it would be a good idea to hook
these sensors up to a transponder, very similar to the ones to be used by
toll readers.  Every time you drive by a transmitter, it sees if your car's
emission control system is working properly.  If not -- well, you'll be
mailed a notice for starters, though the article noted the possibility of
summonses, denial of registration, etc.  An experiment is underway.

Naturally enough, civil liberties groups and automotive manufacturers are
not fond of this whole scheme.  But the board sees it as a ``perception
problem'' -- and the public will love it once they see how ``convenient'' it
is.  Meanwhile, other states are watching, since California has
traditionally led the nation in pollution control laws.

I'm not sure any more needs to be said here.  Even if the system works
exactly as designed, it's a frightening concept.  I leave it to the readers
of this digest to consider how many new and creative failure modes a system
like this can generate -- and how easily it could be abused...

--Steve Bellovin

Index Home About Blog