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Black Boxes. Big Brother?

16387 Views 109 Replies 42 Participants Last post by  Chryjf
Black Boxes. Big Brother? Your 300 has one!

I have mixed opinions on this topic. Let me know yours.

States Debate Auto 'Black Box' Privacy

BISMARCK, N.D. (March 25) - Raymon Holmberg didn't know his new sedan came equipped with the long arm of the law. The dealer hadn't bothered to mention the ''black box,'' a computer chip that stores information on speed and seat belt use.

''When I bought my car,'' he said, ''I didn't realize I was also buying a highway patrolman to sit in the back seat.''

Holmberg, a state senator, believes his privacy was violated and is taking aim at black boxes. Lawmakers in 10 other states are also hoping to regulate black boxes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The bill Holmberg is sponsoring - now up for Senate consideration after being approved Wednesday by the House - would require buyers to be told if their new car or truck is equipped with a black box and would prohibit the data from being used in court. Subscription services such as OnStar, which can be used to track a vehicle's movements, would be exempt.

Its most vocal critics are auto manufacturers. For General Motors, said lobbyist Thomas Kelsch, it makes no sense to bar information from the computer chip from being used in court.

''What's the societal good that would result from the suppression of valuable crash data?'' Kelsch asked.

But Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican, again raises the privacy issue. He worries the data could be used to track driving habits or be used against a driver who has an accident.

''Most people don't realize these devices are in their vehicle, that the information recorded may be used against them and there's no sort of regulation about who owns that information,'' he said.

California has a law on the books requiring dealers and vehicle rental companies to inform drivers when a car has a black box. In New York it is illegal for rental companies to use global positioning system technology to track drivers and use the data to charge extra fees or penalties.

Accident investigators argue that the privacy concerns are overblown.

''These guys are trying to roll back North Dakota courts to the Dark Ages,'' said Jim Harris, owner of Harris Technical Services, a Florida-based accident investigation company. ''What are you going to do? Leave out videotapes?''

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration, about 15 percent of vehicles - or about 30 million cars and trucks - have black boxes. About 65 percent to 90 percent of 2004 cars and trucks have them, according to the NHTA.

Rusty Haight, director of the Collision Safety Institute, which researches crashes and trains accident investigators, said black boxes were introduced in cars along with air bags in the 1970s.

Air bag sensors already collected the information and it was a small step to allow researchers to see how well other systems were performing, Haight said.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Mark Bethke said crash investigators must have a warrant to access information from a recorder. He said the patrol collects such information less than once a month and has never used it in court.

John Buchanan, a Miami accident reconstruction expert, said investigators must compare what the recorder says to the physical evidence at an accident scene.

''I'm a big believer in the box,'' he said. ''But you cannot just take a box, read what it says and say that's what happened.''

Insurance companies already have limited access to some data.

State Farm requires its customers to help with investigations, including allowing insurance employees to look at their vehicles, said **** Luedke, a spokesman for the Illinois-based insurer.

Progressive Insurance began a voluntary program last year in which the company gives drivers a chip similar to a black box that can be used to transmit data, said spokeswoman Shannon Radigan.

Progressive offers drivers the possibility of a break on their insurance rates based on when, how much and how fast they drive, she said. The average discount is between 12 percent and 15 percent, she said.

North Dakota auto dealers say they have not heard many complaints about black boxes. Sales people say customers rarely ask about them. And police say the devices are not common.

''They're just not very prevalent,'' said Fargo Sgt. Joel Vettel.

03-25-05 0619EST
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Northern Rider I couldn't agree with you more. The data collection is especially egregious to the vehicle owners unaware of the box's existence. At least you know it's there. There are websites that can be checked which identify which vehicles have a box and at least some of what data is collected. I still think the manufacturer ought to tell you.
SRT8itchy said:
Northern Rider I couldn't agree with you more. The data collection is especially egregious to the vehicle owners unaware of the box's existence. At least you know it's there. There are websites that can be checked which identify which vehicles have a box and at least some of what data is collected. I still think the manufacturer ought to tell you.
If you look in your owners manual on pages 48-50 it tells you all about the event data recorder (EDR)
arnoldw - My apologies. My car is on order so I haven't seen a manual for a 300. Does the manual state all the info that can be collected, how and by whom? I'm glad the info is now included, but the boxes have been around, to some degree, for about a decade. I don't think most people have any idea what can be retreived.
Just read it. There is alot of mumba jumbo about warrants, police, studies, etc. But generally they must ask your permission (unless legality intervenes, etc) and it states that they are recording crash data right before the crash. No inference to keeping data on you when you go in for services, etc.

Also they refer to seat belt status, brake status, accelerator status (including vehicle speed), engine control status, cruise control status, traction/stability control status.

SRT8itchy said:
arnoldw - My apologies. My car is on order so I haven't seen a manual for a 300. Does the manual state all the info that can be collected, how and by whom? I'm glad the info is now included, but the boxes have been around, to some degree, for about a decade. I don't think most people have any idea what can be retreived.
Here's what it says:


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I don't know....I get a real bad feeling just reading this.....we know the corporate line is this is for your own good, but dammit if we seem to be watched more and more. I don't like this at all and find myself a bit pissed about it....moreso because I didn't know it was even there.
Well at least it doesnt state that it is against the law to bypass or disable it. I bet though you would void your warranty if chrysler found out. I see a need for a plugin module that can be unplugged prior to service.
I don't buy the "just before an accident" line. I have seen the StarScan information with my own eyes. Your top speeds are recorded - date - time - and duration.

People need to be aware of these data recorders.
iam f****ing apalled...i cant believe iam reading this!WTF!! someone tell me this is a this black box in the srt also?...iam still sitting here shaking my head.holy crap if that aint a invasion of our privacy... where do i sign.hell i would almost not buy the car if i knew that the next vech. wouldnt have the blk box but i bet they all have them..someone needs to figure a way to hack this..

ps..i have this little story i was a over the road truck driver and all the semi's had not only black boxes but the blk bxs also controlled your top speed and how we used to bypass the comp we would find the wire that came from the blk box that controlled speed.."white wire" and we would have a pin with a wire wrapped around it and we would stabb the wire. and then we used a trailer light that you would buy from a truck stop.then you would take the wire that was wrapped around the pin and hook it to one of the wires from the light and the other wire that comes from the light gets grounded..well final outcome the the light would light up and the truck would go as fast as you wanted. it bypassed it some how and then when we would get to the terminal we just unplug the pin from the wire. undo the ground clamp and i dont think that it registered because they never said anything about doing 90mph through texas which is mostly flat so they know your not rolln down a hill or something..but maybe this will help someone bypass the box the same way..just need some one to figure which is the speed wire and if you can do the same technique...herbs
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it's no joke!!! it is very real. welcome to 1984!!!

I can't remember but there was a rental car company(hertz or national I believe) about 2 years ago that checked the box and charged the renter for speeding although there was no law enforcement involved. Long story short the renter sued and won!!

For now our rights to privacy are still intact but take a look at the patriot act and other legislation and who knows???
We test drove mine yesterday and it drove fine. The only thing is the pass air bag light stays on. I don't know if anything longterm will occur, but I didn't see any problems.
Thanks all. I agree with the feelings of herbs. This sucks, this is the first I have heard about it and I will not take it sitting down. Shit. BTW, I have not yet even gone 75 mph with this car and I did let Intel know of my concerns with serial numbers and switched to AMD. Not happy.
I am confused. The picture Wes posted of the black box is under my driver seat, not the passenger seat. The passenger seat has a smaller box (about 1/3 the size of the box Wes pictured) with 2 red plugs attached.
joey said:
I am confused. The picture Wes posted of the black box is under my driver seat, not the passenger seat. The passenger seat has a smaller box (about 1/3 the size of the box Wes pictured) with 2 red plugs attached.
Sorry, I posted the wrong pic. You're right it is the small box under other seat.

PS. My other seat was in the other sleep=mistakes.
Gosh, I didn't have a problem with the black box before this thread when I ignortantly thought it would be used only to de-construct accidents. Not realizing is is storing the fact that I may have exceeded the 100 mph mark a time or two, or had to panic stop because of some of our less aware citizenry. I WAS notified by my dealer that is was there (which seems anomalous compared to what you all are saying) but it's capability is greatly underplayed if Northern Rider is to be believed (I'm sure you are NR). So for the attorney, let's work on Federal Legislation that requires a court order, or permission of the "owner" of that information (me) to access it. I don't want some service monkey (no offense, but you haven't seen my service dept...The guy's nikname is Monkey) accessing and logging it in my file so when my tranny dies they won't replace it under warranty because I exceeded the speed limit.
I hope this thread stays alive.

I am going to look into this issue some more when I am back from holidays.

How and when I drive is my own business. I'm prepared to do the time, if I'm caught doin' the crime.

But - I'll be damned if I'm gonna give Smokey a ride in my passenger seat!
from my understanding in an air bag deployment 'the man' can pull info if an investigation is needed.

It will be interesting to see what this will come too.
Another good Article

Privacy Experts Shun Black Boxes
By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

•NTSB Wants Black Boxes in Passenger Vehicles•Evidence From Black Boxes in Cars Turns Up in Courts
WASHINGTON — Some safety and privacy experts are reacting with apprehension, others with all out condemnation over a recent ruling by the National Transportation Safety Board (search) to require electronic data recorders or "black boxes" in all new cars manufactured in the United States.

"I take offense that this personal property of individuals is now being designed by the federal government," said Jim Harper, privacy attorney and editor of

Black boxes (search), or "EDRs" have been fitted into every General Motors car in its 2004 line and is in a number of Ford models — about 15 percent of all vehicles on the road today, according to road safety experts.

EDRs are certainly not new. Information gathered on black boxes — typically everything from speed, brake pressure, seat belt use and air bag deployment — has already been used in determining guilt in criminal and civil cases across the country.

Proponents, including the NTSB and road safety advocates, say the data collected on these black boxes is valuable for studying how accidents happen and how to make roads and cars safer. EDR data has been used for years to fine tune air bag efficiency.

"We think for understanding the dynamics of crashes, the information here can be very, very helpful," said Lon Anderson, director of AAA Mid-Atlantic (search). On the other hand, Anderson said, "We think it would be very wrong if the data in these boxes was deemed to be public information, open to anybody and the owner had no say over it."

The NTSB recommended in early August that black boxes be mandated, but critics say dealers are not now required to alert car owners that their car has the ability to collect the information. Currently only California has a law requiring car dealers to notify buyers when their cars are outfitted with an EDR.

Owners also have no legal protections to keep them from being forced to hand over that information to another party if a court order demanded it.

"I think (owners) have to be told of whatever data there is — and what is being retained longterm. What are the storage conditions? Will they keep it confidential or will they have to release information to anybody?" said professor John Soma, director of the Privacy Center (search) at Denver University.

"Without all of these concerns written into it, then obviously the recommendation is completely unacceptable," he said.

According to Joe Osterman, director of highway safety at the NTSB, the recommendation was inspired in part by a tragic auto accident involving a 86-year-old man who drove his car into a crowded Santa Monica farmers’ market last summer, killing 10 and injuring 63.

Osterman said a black box in the car might have not saved the people in the crash, but would have allowed investigators to find out how it happened and how cars could be better designed to reduce the likelihood of greater injury in the future.

"We have a long history of using data recorders in other modes of transportation and found them extremely useful," Osterman told, pointing to aircraft. "Unless we have all vehicles equipped, you will not have a true picture of what is happening on the highways, in a broader sense."

Phil Haseline, president of the Automobile Coalition for Traffic Safety (search), which represents car manufacturers, said automakers are still debating the value of EDRs, and the idea of requiring them. Haseline said he is a proponent of black boxes but has certain reservations about the NTSB’s recommendation.

He, like others, said he would like to first see standardization of the type of data collected in the black boxes, much like a recommendation made in June by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (search). Right now, dueling technologies record different things.

Then, Haseline said, he would prefer that laws address the issue of a car owner’s knowledge of the EDRs in their vehicles, and that car owners have ownership of the data once its recorded.

"I can understand [NTSB's desire] to have this information, but from a practical perspective, it is premature at this point to require it," he said.

While privacy experts say jokes like "'big brother' is riding shotgun" aren’t funny, the technology already is being used to monitor certain drivers.

Global positioning systems are being used by car rental companies to track where renters are going and how fast they are driving. GPS also allows rental car companies to shut off the engine of a car and lock a renter out of it. It’s the same technology used by OnStar, which promises to be a guardian angel for car owners who are locked out or report a vehicle stolen.

Parents of teenagers have also begun to use black boxes marketed by Road Safety International (search) in Thousand Oaks, Calif. This item, which can be placed under the hood, is able to track the driver’s use of a seatbelt, excessive speed, hard cornering, braking and even unsafe backing, and can store hours of information for review later.

Privacy experts warn that once cars are outfitted for the most limited data recording, the government will find a way to argue it’s for drivers’ "own good" to collect more. They point to a push in recent years to install GPS in all cars so that emergency officials can easily find incapacitated accident victims.

"When you are telling someone it is for their own good, then it should be their own choice, they should be able to say ‘no,’" said professor Yale Kamisar of the University of Michigan Law School. "None of these things work out the way they are supposed to. Why should we believe all of these assurances when they haven’t been honored in the past?"
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Thinking Outside the Black Box
by Jim Harper

Jim Harper is director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute

New cars offer a delightful array of information and services: satellite radio, intelligent cruise control, braking and steering assistance, navigation systems, and roadside assistance, to name a few. These all appeal to drivers' desire for safety, convenience, and comfort.

But a troublesome feature of most new cars is the Event Data Recorder ("EDR"), or Black Box. As in commercial airplanes, the automobile Black Box keeps a running record of how a car is being operated, including speed, acceleration, braking, steering, and seat belt use.

When there is an "event" - usually a crash - the EDR moves the last several seconds of information into long-term storage for later downloading. Well over half of the 2004 model passenger cars and light vehicles have some recording capability of this type.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed standards for the data collected by EDRs, but the agency emphasized in a recent notice that it is not mandating Black Boxes. It will be under pressure to do so. The National Transportation Safety Board has listed Black Boxes as one of its "most wanted" measures.

There are obvious safety benefits if auto accidents can be dissected in detail, of course. Auto manufacturers, safety groups, and insurers want this information. Police departments want it too.

Already, prosecutors are using information from automobile Black Boxes as evidence against drivers. Last year, one Robert Christmann was convicted in a New York traffic fatality based upon information downloaded from his car's Black Box.

But car manufacturers aren't touting the safety benefits of the Black Box like they do so many other improvements on the modern automobile. That is because the Black Box is not a safety feature; it is a surveillance tool -- and when drivers learn about it, they are none too happy.

After I commented on Black Boxes in a news story earlier this year, letters poured into my e-mail box. "This is `over the top,' and a definite infringement on my privacy," said one outraged car owner. Another wrote, "[T]his is a personal vehicle, I've paid for it, paid my taxes, enough said." From another, simply: "Not on my car."

Many correspondents wanted to know which cars have Black Boxes so they can determine whether their personal vehicles were, in effect, spying on them.

There are a number of directions in which this technology is likely to go. It could collect and retain more information for longer periods. It could interact with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to record where a car has traveled. And it could combine with communications systems to signal authorities in real time.

Joan Borucki, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's nominee to head California's Department of Motor Vehicles, has proposed a mileage tax that Black Boxes could administer. The Oregon Department of Transportation has also considered a mileage tax.

In 2001, a Connecticut car rental company began charging renters a $150 fine for speeding in their rental cars, using a GPS-equipped monitoring system. Consumers can shun companies which make this a practice. But they could not refuse an automatically-issued traffic citation if governments were to add Black-Box-citation revenue to what they now get from red-light cameras.

Legislation passed by the state of California is likely a sign where things are headed. The state requires notices in the owner's manuals of cars that have Black Boxes. The new law also allows data to be accessed under court order, for research, and for other reasons. California's EDR law replaced consumer choice with an agreement among politicians, bureaucrats, and industry on a nice low level of protection for consumers.

There is no question that aggregated EDR data can provide important safety benefits. If traffic accidents and deaths can be averted by improving automobile safety, these safety advances should be pursued. But they should be pursued in a way that unites the interests of drivers with the interests of the community.

Insurers should offer car owners discounts if their EDR-equipped cars reveal good driving habits and freedom from blame in accidents. Consumers, not the government, should decide if they want their cars to collect such data, and if they want to share it with others.
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