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Your Car's Black Box Can Bust You

Electronic surveillance data is everywhere watching your every move. That includes your car's black box which can turn into a hostile witness in court and testify against you.

Are you aware of your vehicle's event data recorder (EDR)? It is constantly recording evidence just like a plane's "black box" records what happens after a crash.  

A black box is mandatory for all new cars in the USA.

Back in 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated that all new vehicles be equipped with EDR "black boxes" by 2013. Now, 85% of U.S. vehicles have EDR devices that "must capture and preserve at least 15 types of crash data, including pre-crash speed, engine throttle, changes in forward velocity and airbag deployment times." Some capture as much as 30 types of data.


Like a cop, your black box can testify in court against you. It can testify that you weren't wearing a seat belt, that you were speeding and it can reveal details about what you were doing behind the wheel. Software glitches can happen to everything from pacemakers to automobiles..so it can happen to black boxes, too. You could end up being falsely convicted!

Some privacy advocates suggest cops may be secretly using EDR device data to spy on you. It wouldn't be the first time a car was used to invade privacy. The Nissan Leaf secretly leaks your location and speed to websites.

"Now that your car records what you do behind the wheel, can you swear it to secrecy?" EPIC's executive director Marc Rotenberg said, "Your car is spying on you, collecting data about your habits that could be used by insurers as well as in a civil case or in a criminal matter." Can black box data be trusted?

Does the data about your driving belong to you or to your insurance company? It really depends where you have an accident since some courts have ruled the info belongs to the insurance companies and others have ruled the data belongs to drivers. John Tomaszewski, general counsel at TRUSTe, said "People should not relinquish their Fourth Amendment rights merely because of the location of their information." What about your right to plead the Fifth Amendment and not witness against yourself?


BMW can relay your vehicle's information to a BMW dealership and automatically schedule appointments for maintenance like oil or brake pads.

Venkatesh Prasad, Ford's general manager and director of innovation, told the Wall Street Journal, that "the placement of microphones capture customers' voice commands." Prasad maintains that "Ford respects the privacy of its customers and only uses data in the aggregate," but he also said "we have a great stethoscope now placed right in the cabin."

Do you trust your car's black box not to be used against you? A DriveCam executive defended surveillance technology in cars when asked if spying on teenager drivers was an invasion of privacy or a parent's right. Nowadays insurance companies pimp in-vehicle video cameras to record driver behavior. Jalopnik said people will choose to be spied upon by electronic nanny cams and thereby trade their privacy for cheaper car insurance rates.

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