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Rep. Earl Blumenauer wants to know where you are and where you’re going. At least that’s what his Republican challenger has been telling voters these days on her website and in talk radio appearances. According to Republican congressional hopeful Delia Lopez, Blumenauer sponsored a bill that would put "GPS tracking devices on all our vehicles."
Here’s her grievance in detail::
"Earl Blumenauer is the sponsor of HR-3311 to mandate GPS tracking devices on all our vehicles. To track our every mile and know everywhere we go. The pilot program will waste hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when we are already deep in debt and spending too much. ... This bill is designed to transition us to a per mile vehicle tax system called The Road User Fee Pilot Project and would be administered by the Treasury Department otherwise know as the IRS. This system will track all American cars using a new form of taxation. Cars will be taxed by the mileage they drive. Under the bill the IRS or Treasury will appropriate $154,000,000 of taxpayers money in the form of free grants to well connected commercial manufactures. It means that every car in America will be tracked through whatever method they choose. This constitutes absolute surveillance whether on public or private property, welcome to another attack on the 4th amendment."
Sounds more than a little Orwellian, right? The government, with one little-noticed bill, is going to start tracking your every vehicular movement. Or is it? PolitiFact Oregon decided to dig into this claim, which has been making the rounds on conservative websites even outside the state.
First, let’s start with the basics: It’s true that Blumenauer is the sponsor of H.R. 3311, and it’s also true that the bill, if passed, would cost the government a little over $154 million. But beyond that, Lopez’s argument doesn’t track.
A reading of the actual bill shows that, rather than install GPS tracking devices into all cars nationwide, Blumenauer is looking to set up a national pilot program that would test alternative ways of taxing road use. This shouldn’t be too new to Oregonians. For more than a decade, state policy makers have been trying to figure out how to pay for road maintenance once gas taxes drop because hybrids and electric cars rule the roads.
It’s true, GPS could be used in one or more the programs that might spring up if this bill becomes law. In Oregon’s own statewide pilot program, the Department of Transportation used GPS as its main method of tracking mileage. But, as Blumenauer spokesman Willie Smith points out, GPS is just one way to go about this, and, in fact, there’s no stipulation in the bill that GPS (which isn’t even mentioned in the legislation) be a part of the trial program. "There’s a number of methods for this," Smith said. "Our bill doesn’t prescribe one way or another."
PolitiFact Oregon reads the bill the same way.
Moreover, it should be noted that the bill includes a provision that all pilot programs be evaluated on the basis of a few criteria, including "protection of personal privacy."
Candidate Lopez, however, remains unconvinced. "I think it’s quite plain that the idea in there is to put the GPS tracking in all of our vehicles," she said. "It may be squirmy verbiage that’s put in there. They don’t want to admit that this is exactly what they want to do."
Squirmy verbiage or not, a $154 million pilot program with no specific mandates for GPS and a clause that keeps an eye out for personal privacy is miles away from Lopez’s description of a bill that would mandate tracking devices in "all our vehicles."
Lopez is significantly distorting what Blumenauer's bill would do and ignoring the fact that GPS isn't even mentioned in it. With all that in mind, we rate this claim Pants on Fire.
Delia Lopez for Congress website, Privacy and the Constitution, Sept. 16, 2010
U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 3111, July 23, 2009
Interview with congressional candidate Delia Lopez, Sept. 17, 2010
Interview with Willie Smith, spokesman for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Sept. 16, 2010
The Oregonian, Tax by the mile, Jan. 15, 2009
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