After hearing my recent interview with Aaron on the In the Rabbit Hole Urban Survival Podcast a couple weeks ago, I realized that I’ve yet to talk about vehicle privacy and security. For those of us in North America, vehicles are a way of life. Vehicles present some unique privacy and security challenges. In this post I’m going to talk about a few things you can do to improve vehicle privacy and security. Most requires some minor behavioral modification.
The goal of vehicle privacy is to make it reveal as little personal information as possible through your vehicle’s outward appearance. Any personal information that is conspiciously displayed on your car could be a vector for social engineering and should be avoided. You should also be careful about the personal information that is stored inside your vehicle.
Tidy Up: The detritus in your vehicle can reveal a lot about you. The discarded receipts, shopping bags, coffee cups, and other debris can reveal information about who you are and your pattern of life. Most of this information can be captured from the exterior of the vehicle. Do you shop at high-end retail stores? Do you enjoy a certain, unique coffee shop each day? Is an electric bill or Amazon package, with your name and address clearly visible on the front seat? Items like these reveal where you live, where you work, and the things you like to do. Keep this information – especially the more sensitive bits – out of your car, or at least hidden from view.
Sensitive Documents: Documents in your car present an interesting quandary. First, many of these instruments, like your vehicle registration and insurance documentation, contain sensitive information in the form of your full name and home address. All of this is information you would not want accessed, lost, or stolen. However, you are required by law to have this information in your car during operation, and it must be reasonably accessible. Complicating the matter, you sometimes have to allow others to have access to your car: mechanics, detailers, valets, etc. These others may (or may not) be trustworthy, and would have free access to this information. As I mentioned in The Complete Privacy and Security Desk Reference, I dropped my vehicle with a small local mechanic and two weeks later began receiving junk mail of an automotive nature. Where did the mechanic get my address? From the registration.
The quandary is how to balance keeping these documents available and accessible while still protecting them from the curious. If your car has a locking glove box it may suffice to protect these documents, as long as you have a valet key (a key that operates only the doors and ignition but not the trunk or glove box) and remember to use it. If you are exceptionally patient and dedicated to security you could take these documents with you when you leave the car, but the risk of forgetting them is high and could have legal consequences.
The most elegant solution to this problem that I have found is the MMF Industries Night Depost Bag (pictured below). The bag is tough and durable and has a built-in, seven-pin lock. Though the bag could be cut open by a determined thief, it prevents a casual snooper from accessing my full name, home address, insurance account number, and other personally sensitive data. It also makes it possible for you to know if the information has been accessed and react accordingly. Just remember to take the key to the bag off the key ring before you hand it over to a mechanic or valet. Just as importantly, you should go through the sensitive documents in your car and reduce them to the bare minimum.
Bumper Stickers, etc.: My advice: take the bumper stickers off your vehicle. Though some feel the need to express themselves through the automotive-extension-of-self, it can be damaging to your privacy. First, it makes your vehicle more recognizable and memorable. Second, bumper stickers let everyone know what your opinions and views are – which can probably be extrapolated fairly accurately (like Facebook “likes“) to other facets of your life. If you are a firearms owner, you may be compelled to put manufacturer stickers on your car. This can reveal to a burglar that there are (possibly) guns in your car and (almost certainly) guns in your house.
I think of it this way: what, exactly, does a bumper sticker accomplish? Has a bumper sticker ever changed anyone’s mind – about anything? Have you ever made a life-long friend or been offered a job because of the bumper stickers on your car? Has an election ever been decided because of the number of people that chose to display a particular candidate’s bumper sticker? I’m guessing the answer is “no” to all of the above. Vanity plates, custom license plate frames, and other bits of elective information also fall into this category.
Vehicle security can be a bit more challenging than vehicle privacy. Because your car is designed to move, it is at risk for theft. Because of the large number of windows it is at extreme risk for break-ins. Unfortunately I have no magic techniques or hardware to offer to make your vehicle impervious to break-in attempts. The best recourse against these attacks is to make the vehicle an unattractive target.
Locks and Alarms: There are two incredibly important steps you can take to prevent vehicle break-ins. First, lock your doors! Though citing a small sample size, Greg Ellifritz’s examinations of vehicle break-ins (here and here) would indicate that locking your doors is a pretty effective deterrent. If your vehicle has an alarm you should arm it when you walk away. Next, and equally important: don’t leave vaulables in plain sight. Shove them under the seats, throw them in the glove box, or better yet, lock them in the trunk. Don’t get a false sense of security, though. If your vehicle is broken into, the glove box and trunk will both be accessible. And if you drive an SUV, use one of those cargo area covers.
Other Security Measures: These aren’t rocket science, but they probably make the biggest difference. Be careful where you park. Don’t leave your car in poorly lit, secluded areas. Arm your car’s alarm system. There are a number of vehicle anti-theft tools on the market. These include mechanical steering wheel locks and brake and clutch locks. Though I don’t have experience with the them, the brake and clutch pedal locks seem like they would be harder to defeat. There are also electronic measures like LoJack, but using one should be balanced with the privacy concerns around having your location tracked.
You can do a lot to protect your privacy where your vehicle is concerned. Because of the huge amount of glass in most cars, truly securing a vehicle is much, much harder. Both vehicle privacy and security rely on some behavioral changes on your part.
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