You’ve probably heard of the “little black box” airplanes use to collect in-flight data.
Event Data Recorders, or “EDRs”, record data that can be useful in determining the cause of an accident. That information can be used to improve safety technology. That’s a good thing, right?
Would you want an EDR installed in your vehicle?
More than likely, your car is already equipped with one.
At least 150 million older vehicles have them, and so do 96% of new cars. American auto manufacturers, including GM and Ford, have been putting them in cars since the mid-1990s.
In 2012, the federal government proposed that all new passenger vehicles be equipped with the devices.
But what kind of data do those little black boxes collect? And who owns that data?
And will the device record information other than the details of an accident?
Some states are looking into using EDRs to track how many miles you drive.
Guess what they will use THAT data for?
The government says the gas tax just isn’t generating enough revenue to maintain our roads. Those little black boxes could be used to track mileage – and tax us based on that information. You know, so they can use that money to improve our highways. But why not just increase the gas tax? It hasn’t been raised in 20 years. That seems like a fairly simple solution.
But would any revenue generated by a mileage tax actually be used to improve our roads?
Judge Andrew Napolitano doesn’t think so.
He says that the revenue from mileage taxes would actually go to the “general treasury of the state” like any other tax:
“To say we need the black box so that drivers pay their fair share of using the highway is ridiculous. … It’s just more money for the bureaucrats to spend,” he said.
If we need more funds to improve roadways, why not just increase the gas tax? It hasn’t been raised in 20 years.
Could it be that the use of EDRs provides a benefit (to the government) that simply raising the gas tax doesn’t? Judge Napolitano explores that possibility here:
Horace Cooper of the National Center for Public Policy Analysis called the idea “an unprecedented breach of privacy for Americans.”
“Not only will this new requirement give new resources and data to the DOT to support more economically-damaging regulations in the future, this mandate itself represents an unprecedented breach of privacy for Americans,” he said.
Government agencies might claim that EDRs would be used solely for mileage tracking and safety, but Cooper says they “can and will track the comings and goings of car owners and even their passengers.”
“EDRs not only provide details necessary for accident investigation, they can also track travel records, passenger usage, cell phone use and other private data — who you visit, what you weigh, how often you call your mother and more is captured by these devices.”
First, people need to know that these things are in their cars. That’s a basic principle of privacy and fairness. Some automakers have been installing them for years without clear notice to customers.
We need to clearly establish the principle that the data on these black box computers belongs to the person who owns the car. When you buy a car, you also buy the many computers that, increasingly, run that car. The data on your EDR should belong to you—and be no more accessible to the police or anyone else without a warrant, or your consent, than the data on the laptop sitting on the seat next to you. That doesn’t mean the data will never be available to the police—if they have a judicial order, they’ll be able to obtain it, just as they can obtain the information on your desktop computer or diary if they can show that evidence of a crime is likely to be contained therein. NHTSA says in its rulemaking that it obtains permission from vehicle owners before using data for its safety studies.
Should vehicle owners have the right to disable or otherwise tinker with their black boxes? Generally, the “freedom to tinker” and to control our own technology is an important principle, and the default policy should be “yes.”
Although cars are different, EDRs may still set an important precedent for a range of other technologies in terms of who controls them and in whose interests. Will devices serve the consumer/owner, or some other powerful interest such as the government or big companies? We don’t want to drift into a world in which our own possessions are riddled with computer chips acting in the interests of others—watching us, controlling us, and possibly snitching on us.
Automakers are working on developing “connected cars” that constantly produce information about themselves to make driving easier and collisions preventable. Technology already exists to transfer any data collected by an EDR to an outside monitoring center – in real time.
EDR technology provides yet another way to spy on us and tax us – surely, a government’s dream.
Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”