Share This Page

Debate over 'black boxes' in vehicles centers on privacy concerns vs. safety

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

What if the black box in your new car becomes a tool to invade your privacy? What if, on the other hand, it winds up saving your life after an accident?

Those are some of the questions being raised this week over event data recorders, or black boxes, in cars. Privacy advocates raised concerns on Thursday about the data being misused. Safety advocates argued on Friday that a watered-down version of the recorders would slow safety innovations.

In the former camp is the Electronic Frontier Foundation and this scenario: The friend who borrowed your BMW decides to live out his ultimate driving dream, and your insurance rises because of his 120 mph freeway jaunt.

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to make event data recorders mandatory for all cars.

Nate Cardozo, staff attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that the black boxes track such information as accelerator pedal position, brake pedal position, engine revolutions per minute, vehicle speed and acceleration, whether seat belts are connected, whether air bags deployed and a lot more.

The foundation's concerns include the fact that there is no cap on the amount of data collected and there are no limits on the kind of data that will be gathered, Cardozo said.

“The car manufacturers can use that data at will, including location, which has significant privacy implications,” Cardozo said, which led to the scenario of a speed jaunt finding its way into the hands of an auto insurance company. “The car owner should be the one controlling access to the data.”

But others praise the black boxes as probable lifesavers that could have prevented many tragedies and shortened many safety investigations in the past, if the technology had been available sooner.

“If we had these event data recorders, we would have picked up on child deaths from air bags much sooner,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

Ditlow added that it took the NHTSA more than three decades to set a standard for better interior padding in cars to prevent injury, noting that black boxes would have zeroed in on the problem quickly.

Ditlow added that problems involved in auto safety recalls, which often track a hazard over several model years, would be discovered much faster.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.