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Technology - Cars.Gov Hysteria

Author: Edward L Winston
Added: August 31st, 2009

I recall that there were references to something going on at the web site, but it didn't seem like it was that big of a deal. It wasn't until Glenn Beck decided to open his luddite mouth that the insanity really took off. So what is the conspiracy theory here?

Going to the web site gives the government the government complete control over your computer and the files therein become property of the United States government.

The Cars web site, or CARS, stands for Car Allowance Rebate System and is also referred to by "Cash for Clunkers", or "Cash for Clonkers" by even dumber people.

Essentially what happened was the web site meant for auto-dealers, not regular people, had a login screen which showed a poorly worded version of some kind of Privacy and Security statement[1]:

This application provides access to the DOT CARS system. When logged on to the CARS system, your computer is considered a federal computer system and it is property of the United States Government. Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized CARS, DOT, and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign.

Again, while this does look bad at face value, it was not tied to the regular consumer portion for the site. It only popped up on the Enterprise Services Center web site (

Glenn Beck says this, but then his air-headed co-host Kim Guilfoyle tells the audiance and viewers not to go to the web site. Beck then changes his previous statement by saying not to go to the web site, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with, but rather and was for dealerships, not consumers.

Even the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) didn't buy into the hysteria, which is unusual for them[2]:

Clicking "continue" on a poorly worded Terms of Service on a government site will not give the government the ability to "tap into your system... any time they want." The seizure of the personal and private information stored on your computer through a one-sided click-through terms of service is not "conscionable" as lawyers say, and would not be enforceable even if the website was capable of doing it, which we seriously doubt. Moreover, the law has long forbidden the government from requiring you to give up unrelated constitutional rights (here the 4th Amendment right to be free from search and seizure) as a condition of receiving discretionary government benefits like participation in the Cars for Clunkers program.

On August 3rd, 2009 the statement previously presented to dealers was changed[1]:

This notice is provided pursuant to the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 USC § 552a: This information is solicited under the authority of Public Law 111-32, 123 Stat. 1859. Furnishing the information is voluntary, but failure to provide all or part of the information may result in disapproval of your request for a credit on this purchase or lease transaction under the Cars Program. The principal purposes for collecting the information are to determine if purchase or lease transactions are eligible for credits under the CARS Program, to ensure proper disposal of trade-in vehicles, to prevent, identify and penalize fraud in connection with the Program, and to update an existing government database of Vehicle Identification Numbers. If you complete the optional survey, the survey information will be used to report to Congress on the Program. Other routine uses are published in the Federal Register at 65 F.R. 19476 (April 11, 2000), available at: 

In the end, as always, the hysteria was shown to be blown out of proportion. If it was that easy to seize everything on your computer, why would they tell you they're doing it?