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Question: Tracking our cars?

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July 31, 2006

“My boyfriend who’s an electrical engineer but mostly does computer work says that the government has been able to track our cars since the 1980s. Is this true? How do they do it?” — Allison, Atlanta

Well, automobiles have unique Vehicle Identification Numbers and can be tracked that way, but I don’t think that’s what you are referring to. You’re asking whether or not there is some automatic vehicle tracking system in place in the country.

No, there isn’t. But that’s changing. Cars that are equipped with roadside assistance technologies like OnStar can be tracked, even without the knowledge or consent of the driver. Cell phones can be tracked, and more and more people drive around with cell phones in their pockets. And lastly, we’re starting to see automatic license-plate scanners that can be used to track cars, even by helicopter.