Mandatory Black Boxes in Cars Raise Privacy Questions
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today to include strict privacy protections for data collected by vehicle "black boxes" to protect drivers from long-term tracking as well as the misuse of their information.
Black boxes, more formally called event data recorders (EDRs), can serve a valuable forensic function for accident investigations, because they can capture information like vehicle speed before the crash, whether the brake was activated, whether the seat belt was buckled, and whether the airbag deployed. NHTSA is proposing the mandatory inclusion of black boxes in all new cars and light trucks sold in America. But while the proposed rules would require the collection of data in at least the last few seconds before a crash, they don't block the long-term monitoring of driver behavior or the ongoing capture of much more private information like audio, video, or vehicle location.
"The NHTSA's proposed rules fail to address driver privacy in any meaningful way," said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. "These regulations must include more than minimum requirements of what should be collected and stored – they need a reasonable maximum requirement as well."
The current NHTSA proposal mandates a boilerplate notice to consumers that "various systems" are being monitored. The plan also calls for a commercial tool to be made available to allow user access to black box data. In its comments submitted to the NHTSA today, EFF calls for complete and comprehensive disclosure of data collection as well as a free and open standard to access black box information.
"The information collected by EDRs is private and must remain private until the car owner consents to its use," said Cardozo. "Consumers deserve full disclosure of what is being collected, when, and how, as well as an easy and free way of accessing this data on their own. Having to buy access to your own data is not reasonable. "
In addition to submitting its own comments to the NHTSA today, EFF also joined the Electronic Privacy Information Center and a broad coalition of privacy, consumer rights, and civil rights organizations in comments urging the NHTSA to adopt specific, privacy-protecting amendments to its proposed rules.
For EFF's full comments submitted to the NHTSA:
Electronic Frontier Foundation