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Despite lack of privacy protections, government to order black boxes in cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is soon to propose regulations requiring auto makers to install “black boxes” in all new automobiles even though federal rules governing the use of the data collected are non-existent.

The boxes – known as event data recorders – record vehicle data constantly and save up to 10 seconds of it in the event of a crash. Vehicle speed, steering, braking, seat belt, stability control, seat positions and other data are collected by the boxes.

Associate Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center Lillie Coney shares the concerns of many drivers that the government is collecting the data without any policies in place on how it can be used. “Right now we’re in an environment where there are no rules, there are no limits, there are no consequences and there is no transparency,” said Coney. “Most people who are operating a motor vehicle have no idea this technology is integrated into their vehicle.”

While auto industry experts state that the boxes are intended to help engineers understand how cars perform in crashes, the restriction to using black box data in that manner doesn’t exist. Ownership of the data isn’t even codified in law which could allow insurance companies or the federal government to use the data in ways car owners wouldn’t expect.

As much as 90% of new cars are already equipped with the sensors even before the regulations are released. Up until three months ago, there was no requirement to inform the vehicle owner that a recorder was installed.

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