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Push For Mandatory Black Boxes In Cars Raises Privacy Concerns

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A proposal from federal regulators to require automakers to install devices that record drivers’ “safety-related data” has some privacy advocates wondering exactly how the data might be used.

KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz reports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling for the so-called “black boxes” to be in every American car within two years.

The proposed rule would require automakers to install event data recorders, devices that record vehicle speed and other related data, by Sept. 1, 2014.

Regulators said a crash or air bag deployment typically triggers an EDR device, which collects data in the seconds before and during a crash.

The EDR would record whether the brake was activated in the moments before a crash; crash forces at the moment of impact; information about the state of the engine throttle; air bag deployment timing and air bag readiness prior to the crash; and whether the vehicle occupant’s seat belt was buckled.

NHTSA officials assured the public that EDRs do not collect “any personal identifying information or record conversations” and would instead provide key data that could prevent future accidents.

But former NHTSA chief Mark Rosenker said questions remain over exactly how officials would acquire that data.

“Unless they change the rules on this, which I doubt they will at this time, this data remains to be owned by the vehicle’s owner,” Rosenker said.

All new vehicles sold after July 2004 are required to disclose whether the vehicle is equipped with an EDR in the owner’s manual, and NHTSA officials estimate that approximately 96 percent of model year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles are already equipped with EDR capability.

But Keith Crain, editor-in-chief of Automotive News, said the government must address issues surrounding ownership of any recordings made in a vehicle outfitted with an EDR.

“Who owns the data?” Crain asked. “If you’re in an accident, can this data be used against you?”

Members of the public will have 60 days to comment on NHTSA’s EDR proposal once the proposal is published in the Federal Register by visiting Regulations.gov.

Click here (PDF) to read the proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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