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Meet the Bill That Wants to Put Plane-Like Black Boxes in Our Cars

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Megan Garber
The Atlantic
April 20, 2012

Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, reading through Section 31406 of the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (MAP-21) bill that’s currently making its way through Congress, made a nice catch: The bill calls for “Mandatory Event Data Recorders” to be installed in new vehicles starting in the year 2015.

Yes. If the bill becomes law, cars manufactured in the U.S. will have black boxes — similar to the recording devices that are standard inclusions on aircraft.

There are some obvious benefits to making trip reporting a standard feature of automobiles — not just the same benefits, basically, that make them standard features on planes, but also (assuming it’s an option) the personal consumer benefits that come from understanding, in detail, how you use your car. Even more obvious, however, are the drawbacks that will come with the recording devices. For one thing, they’ll make GPS tracking in cars not an anomaly, but an assumption. They’ll be an implicit, omnipresent threat to personal privacy. They’ll take the thing that has been Americans’ prototypical symbol of freedom and individuality — the car — and render it just another piece of trackable infrastructure.

The bill tries to preempt these concerns, going out of its way to specify that the data recorders will be the property of the owners of the cars that contain it. (“Any data in an event data recorder required under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, regardless of when the passenger motor vehicle in which it is installed was manufactured, is the property of the owner, or in the case of a leased vehicle, the lessee of the passenger motor vehicle in which the data recorder is installed.”) And the data recorded on the device, more significantly, may not be retrieved by anyone except the owner of lessee.

However. That doesn’t preclude the government — or anyone else — from demanding those data once they’re collected, for legal or many other reasons. Here are the many exceptions to the bill’s “ownership of data” stipulation:

Data recorded or transmitted by such a data recorder may not be retrieved by a person other than the owner or lessee of the motor vehicle in which the recorder is installed unless–

(A) a court authorizes retrieval of the information in furtherance of a legal proceeding;

(B) the owner or lessee consents to the retrieval of the information for any purpose, including the purpose of diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;

(C) the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code, and the personally identifiable information of the owner, lessee, or driver of the vehicle and the vehicle identification number is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved information; or

(D) the information is retrieved for the purpose of determining the need for, or facilitating, emergency medical response in response to a motor vehicle crash.

Yes. And loopholes, as we’re reminded pretty much every day, are made to be driven through. As Kim Zetter reported today at Wired, just last week a federal judge ruled that evidence gathered through the DEA’s warrantless use of covert GPS vehicle trackers was permissible as evidence to prosecute a suspected drug trafficker — this despite the Supreme Court ruling that such tracking is unconstitutional without a warrant. A reminder that, for all the good that can come from the generation of new data about our lives, there will always be trade-offs and compromises. And those trade-offs, when it comes to our cars, could be coming very soon. MAP-21, Infowar’s Watson notes, is “already passed by the Senate and set to be rubber stamped by the House.”

This article was posted: Friday, April 20, 2012 at 8:26 am

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