Big Brother in the Bay State...and Beyond?

Crossposted at The Rockefeller Republican

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” – 1984, by George Orwell

Living in Massachusetts has always meant seeing the state government take more than its fair share from my wallet. But Governor Deval L. Patrick’s latest idea goes beyond liberal tax policy and into the realm of the warning fiction of George Orwell’s 1984. Struggling to pay for state transportation projects in an era of recession, Gov. Patrick is considering installing chips in state inspection stickers as a way to charge motorists for miles they drive on state highways. And this experimental, vehicle-tracking chip is evoking fears of “Big Brother,” here in the Bay State and beyond.

The idea is that as cars become more fuel efficient revenues from gas taxes will decline. However, the cost of maintaining transportation infrastructure will continue to increase with inflation, requiring new sources of money. So rather than look for areas that the state could in effect tighten its belt, it will instead try to turn all public roads into toll roads. Trips would be measured by a chip installed in a vehicle inspection sticker. And while it is true that the idea is to give drivers a gas tax refund for their mileage to avoid double payments, a student of history should not necessarily take them at their word there. It is not hard to imagine a “sin tax” on gas powered cars which would in effect double tax most drivers. To add insult to injury, while the state is suffering a $1 billion deficit, the Legislature is being asked for $25 million to study the vehicle tracking system and other solutions.

While the idea of tracking chips is new to Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Idaho are all considering similar plans. And there are real concerns this idea could go national. Last week, President Obama’s Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, promoted the idea of taxing drivers based on vehicle miles traveled as a way to add revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.

In an era when credit card companies monitor all of our purchasing habits, when Google records every page we have every visited, when medical records are being placed online, how long before GPS like tracking devices follow our every move, finding more and more ways to tax and otherwise infringe upon our lives?

“Big Brother Is Watching You.” 1984 – George Orwell