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EPIC: New automobile information technologies such as OnStar - which uses a global positioning system - can track your physical location. The handy service can unlock your car door via satellite, or help you find your way in an unfamiliar town on the middle of the night. Get out of your car and turn on your cell phone for a casual chat, and you're back in the panopticon: if your cell phone is a relatively new model, it too has a GPS chip. GPS systems in your car or telephone can track the addresses you visit - the doctor's office, the liquor store, your lover's house. At the moment, the companies that can collect this data are under no legal obligation to protect your privacy. They may sell a permanent record of your movements to marketing firms, your employer, your wife, your bitterest enemies. OnStar's privacy policy assures users that "You take privacy seriously, and so do we at OnStar." But the company's privacy policy also says "we may routinely collect information, such as ... the location of your vehicle provided via satellite, or any other information, including your preferences or usage patterns." The policy does not say that the company sells or plans to sell or share such records of your whereabouts. Then again, it doesn't say it doesn't, either. Ominously, the online privacy policy ends with this: "OnStar reserves the right to alter its privacy principles as business needs require." Consumer advocates attacked Sprint for being among the first to put the federally mandated GPS chips in its cellular phones. Sprint has said it will only use the information to help police and firefighters to locate Sprint customers in emergencies. But again, there is no law requiring Sprint or any other cellular firm from collecting, storing, or selling information it may gather on the comings and goings of its customers.

The Center for Democracy & Technology has asked the Federal Communications Commission to develop regulations on how "location tracking" information may be used by businesses and agencies that collect it. While OnStar may decide to sell your location records to a marketing firm, that's just the beginning of the troubling potential of such technology. The CDT's Davidson points out that there's nothing to stop someone from misuing location information to stalk a former lover or kidnap a child.

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