A man charged in a St. Paul homicide was tracked though a car's OnStar system and arrested in Texas last night, according to the Pioneer Press
Jerome Kinta West, 33, was found in El Paso. West, along with three other men, were charged Monday in an alleged drug-related murder. The victim was shot 15 times in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood last Thursday.
While we are impressed with the ability of the police to track down a suspect so quickly, what does the power of OnStar mean to just regular users? We'll give you a quick run down of what OnStar knows about you.
Note to criminals: Don't drive GM cars.
First off, who actually purchases GM cars these days? In other words, if you're buying their cars, you're out of luck. GM cars come equipped with OnStar services.
OnStar does have a lot of great features that could put you at ease in case of emergencies. The service can detect accidents, communicate with drivers and get help to the scene quickly. That is obviously the main reason to use OnStar in the first place.
But what about other uses of this information?
Yes, we know the classic "if you aren't a criminal, why do you care?" statement, but privacy is still a concern to anyone. And yes, we know many of these privacy invasions can also happen through your cell phone.
In an article on Truth about Cars
, they highlight some of the features of OnStar. Some can be used for safety purposes, but think about other uses of this information:
OnStar is a telemetry system providing a central data bank with real-time data on virtually every system in your car, including GPS. OnStar's computer knows where you were, when you were there, and how fast you went. It knows if and when you applied the brakes, if and when the air bags deployed, and what speed you were going at the time. It knows if and when your car was serviced.
OnStar operators can determine if you have a passenger in the front seat (airbag detection). All interactions with OnStar's operators are automatically recorded (hence the commercials). By the same token, under certain conditions, OnStar can switch on your GM car's microphone remotely and record any and all sounds within the vehicle (i.e. conversations).
And the latest feature?
As of 2009, customers who upgrade to OnStar's "Safe & Sound" plan automatically receive the "Stolen Vehicle Slowdown" service. (Yes, it's an "opt out" deal.) If the OnStar-equipped vehicle is reported stolen and law enforcement has "established a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle," the police may ask OnStar to slow it down remotely.
OnStar says they keep your information private, but that changes when police want access to it:
"OnStar is required to locate the car to comply with legal requirements, including valid court orders showing probable cause in criminal investigations." And OnStar may use gathered information to "protect the rights, property, or safety of you or others."
Truth about Cars says you can't even simply turn it off. The service can be remotely enabled unless you actually disconnect it in the car.
The case of the suspect in the St. Paul homicide is one example of how police can use your OnStar car to find you, but the data available goes much deeper into your everyday life. Is that lack of privacy worth it for your safety or has OnStar gone too far?