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The Black Box Bill

We’re all familiar with the black boxes on airplanes, but what about a black box for your car? This may be a reality of the not-so-distant future, as a new black box bill has just passed Senate approval this spring. This article takes a closer look at the ominously-titled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill.

What is this bill all about?

In mid-April 2012, Senate approved the car black box bill, officially known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (or the MAP-21).  The bill was proposed by Senators Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid. In it, there is a provision mandating the inclusion of so-called Event Data Recorders in all automobiles produced from 2015 onwards. The text of the bill states,

“Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.”

The MAP-21 clarifies that car owners or lessors own the data recorded by the event data recorder and no one else is permitted to retrieve it, unless there is a medical emergency resulting from a car accident, or if the data is required in a legal investigation.

Another problematic element of the bill is that it mandates a “Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications system,” to be introduced three years after the bill comes into force. It requires a report on:

1)      A recommended implementation path for short-range communications technology and applications.

2)      Guidance on the relationship of the proposed deployment of dedicated short-range communications to the National ITS Architecture and ITS Standards.

3)      Ensuring competition by not preferencing the use of any particular frequency for vehicle-to-infrastructure operations.

Essentially, this forms a framework for vehicles to be installed with communications systems that will constantly transmit information regarding location and other diagnostics to other vehicles (such as law enforcement) and infrastructure. This is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the comprehensive surveillance of citizens’ movements, as well as constant real time eavesdropping of the goings-on in their vehicles.

Although this is worrisome news, particularly for those of us in the privacy community, remember that the legislation will still have to pass the House of Representatives before it becomes law. The MAP-21 contains other (perhaps even more) controversial provisions, including revoking passports for unpaid back taxes, so it may be awhile before this passes.

What are Event Data Recorders?

Event Data Recorders (EDRs) are colloquially known as ‘black boxes’. Similar to the devices already installed on airplanes, automobile EDRs record information about an automobile crash. It’s likely that if you purchased a car in the last decade or so, it already has an EDR installed.

According to a 2006 report from the National Institute of Highway Safety, at least sixty-four percent of the cars surveyed in 2005 had an EDR on board. One hundred percent of cars made by General Motors, Ford, Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Suzuki came equipped with EDRs.

Black boxes have been essential in the analysis of airplane crashes since the mid-20th century. These are tamper-proof devices that record the activity of a plane’s electrical systems. Some even record conversations in the cockpit to better understand the circumstances leading up to the plane crash.

Similarly, an automobile EDR would record the details leading up to a car accident. There are a number of different types of EDRs in use right now. Some continuously record information, while others are activated by accident-like conditions (e.g. sudden decreases in velocity, airbag deployment or the driver slamming on the brakes).

Automobile EDRs are often integrated with a passenger car’s restraint system and after an airbag is deployed, car system data are recorded to the device for future analysis. This data is often used for insurance purposes and in court cases, to determine exactly what took place during an accident.

The critics are saying…

According to Paul Joseph Watson, a blogger for Infowars:

“The ‘Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act’ represents nothing less than a full frontal assault on the mobility rights of Americans, as well as codifying into law mandatory surveillance technology that will allow the government to… spy on drivers.”

Summary

This spring, Senate approved the car black box bill, officially known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (or the MAP-21). The bill includes a provision mandating the inclusion of so-called Event Data Recorders (EDRs) in all automobiles produced from 2015 onwards. Although the bill clarifies that car owners or lessors would own the data recorded by the EDRs, privacy activists have raised a number of concerns.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam, as well as the Certified Information Privacy Professional/ US Government (CIPP/G) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Technologies with privacy impacts (CIPP/IT; VI.)
  • Privacy as a core value in US government (CIPP/G; I..A.b.i.)
  • US public and private sector information privacy laws (CIPP/G; I.B.)
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