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Throughout The Car Industry

Are Black Boxes in Cars an Invasion of Privacy?

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On: Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 12:15PM | By: Elizabeth Puckett

Are Black Boxes in Cars an Invasion of Privacy?

There is a growing, and ongoing, debate in this country about a little device in a lot of cars, but many drivers don’t even know they are there! This event recording device is known as a black box and is somewhat hard to find inside your own personal vehicle. The black box inside privately owned vehicles has many worried about privacy and the potential for abuse of information.

In the United States, approximately 96% of all new vehicles have black boxes in them. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is pushing to get that number to 100% by September of 2014.

The vast amount of data stored in these devices have brought up questions about privacy and who owns the information. If you think about it, something you own as a part of the purchase of your car can be used against you in a civil or criminal case—and you probably didn’t even know it was there! In addition to questions about privacy violations, many also have concerns about the accuracy and reliability of these devices.

These little black boxes have been used for a long time now by car companies to measure performance of their vehicles. The data stored in them is being used more frequently to pin down issues in the cars, which most people are okay with, but what’s alarming to many is how frequently they are now being used in criminal cases and traffic investigations. So basically, your own car might end up being the star witness for the people suing or prosecuting you if such a case should ever come up.

In the eyes of law enforcement, federal regulators, and insurance investigators, these black boxes are valuable tools in investigations. They provide information that would otherwise not be available for evaluating what happened during an auto accident.

Consumer advocates are not buying it; too many cases have proven to have an adverse outcome for the owner of the car when black boxes are used as evidence. Advocates also worry that there is a high potential for abuse of information.

What if you find it, should you try to remove it? We wouldn’t recommend it. It’s likely that if you do remove it and end up being involved in a crash, charges could easily be brought up against you for tampering with evidence or interfering with a police investigation.

There’s no real indication that you should be paranoid about these boxes though. They have to be removed to actually get the information and cannot be used as tracking devices of any kind. In 14 states; laws have been passed that state the information gathered belongs to the car’s owner and information can be accessed for litigation only with a court order.

Currently, black boxes record data associated only with a crash. Unless triggered, these devices are inactive. That’s not to say that technology won’t permit for more extensive monitoring through black boxes, especially with the advent of the mass-produced connected car on the horizon.

Here’s what the black box in your car will record if triggered:
• Engine speed
• Throttle position
• Vehicle speed
• Steering angle
• Force of impact
• Airbag deployment
• Braking status
• Seatbelt status



gator done | 1:19PM (Wed, Jul 31, 2013)

Interesting article. I had no idea black boxes were in cars. I wonder if the black box knows if the car has been sold?

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