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Privacy Concern - You May be Monitored by a Black Box in Your Car

The data event recorders (aka black boxs) have long been used to assess vehicle performance data, and 96 percent of new vehicles in the market today have one hidden inside the car. The data stored in the devices are increasingly being used as evidence in accidents and criminal cases.

In 2011, Timothy P. Murray, a  lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, crashed his government-issued Ford Crown Victoria and was not seriously hurt; he told police he was wearing a seat belt and was not speeding.

But a different story soon emerged. Murray was driving more than 100 miles an hour and not wearing a seat belt, according to the computer in his car. He got a $555 ticket and later said he had fallen asleep.

The case put Murray at the center of a growing debate over a little-known piece of equipment in the innards of a car: the event data recorder, commonly known as the black box.

To regulators, police, and insurers, the data are indispensable in investigations.

If you thought having EZ Pass in your car would make it too easy for the government to track you, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Senate passed a bill in March that calls for “mandatory event data recorders” (or black boxes) to be installed in all new passenger motor vehicles, starting with the 2015 models, and which would record data before, during or after a crash.

Black boxes “provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” David L. Strickland, the agency’s administrator, said in a statement.

But to consumer advocates, the data are the latest example of governments and companies having too much access to private information.

There's no opt-out. It's extremely difficult for car owners to disable the recorders. Although some vehicle models have had recorders since the early 1990s, a federal requirement that automakers disclose their existence in owner's manuals didn't go into effect until three months ago. Automakers who voluntarily put recorders in vehicles are also now required to gather a minimum of 15 types of data.

Fourteen states’ laws say that even though the data belong to the vehicle owner, law enforcement officials and those involved in litigation can gain access with a court order.

In these states, lawyers may subpoena the data, making the information accessible to third parties, including law enforcement and insurers that could cancel a driver’s policy or raise a premium based on the recorder’s data.

In Murray’s case, a court order was not required to release the data to investigators. Massachusetts is not among the states with a law governing access to the data. Murray, who did not contest the ticket and who resigned as lieutenant governor in June to become head of the Chamber of Commerce in Worcester, declined to comment.
The recorders capture only the few seconds surrounding a crash or air bag deployment. A separate device extracts the data, which is then analyzed with software programs.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group, supports the devices.

“Event data recorders help our engineers and researchers understand how cars perform in the real world, and one of our priorities for EDRs continues to be preserving consumer privacy,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman. “Automakers don’t access EDR data without consumer permission, and we believe that any government requirements to install EDR’s on all vehicles must include steps to protect consumer privacy.”

Would you disable the black box in you car if it is not too difficult to do so?

Privacy Concern - You May be Monitored by a Black Box in Your Car Reviewed by Blogs on 4:16 PM Rating: 5

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