The new highway bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP21, has come under some criticism, in part because of a provision that would give the IRS power to strip American citizens of their U.S. passports if they own the federal government enough money. Another provision of S.1813 also has civil liberties implications, particularly for motorists. If the Senate’s version of the legislation survives the reconciliation process with the House, the final bill would make the installation of event data recorders (EDRs) mandatory in all new cars sold in the United States starting in 2015.
SEC. 31406. VEHICLE EVENT DATA RECORDERS.
(a) Mandatory Event Data Recorders-
(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.
The cited part of CFR 49, establishes standards for EDRs if manufacturers voluntarily install them. S.1813 would make such installation, as the legislation says, mandatory, with civil penalties imposed on manufacturers for non-compliance. Theoretically the the car owner or lessee would still own the data, but the bill carves out exceptions that could give the government broad access to your personal travel data.
(2) PRIVACY- Data recorded or transmitted by such a data recorder may not be retrieved by a person other than the owner or lessee of the motor vehicle in which the recorder is installed unless–
(A) a court authorizes retrieval of the information in furtherance of a legal proceeding;
(B) the owner or lessee consents to the retrieval of the information for any purpose, including the purpose of diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;
(C) the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code, and the personally identifiable information of the owner, lessee, or driver of the vehicle and the vehicle identification number is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved information; or
(D) the information is retrieved for the purpose of determining the need for, or facilitating, emergency medical response in response to a motor vehicle crash.
While most Americans would not have much objection to Parts A and B, court ordered or consensual searches, Parts C and D create issues over civil liberties. They also might give the federal government powers that constitutionally rest with the individual states. Traffic laws are enforced at the state and local levels in the United States. Sections 1131 and 30166 of CFR 49 are what gives the National Transportation Safety Board it’s authority to investigate transportation accidents. That authority is fairly broad and technically covers all motor vehicle accidents so the new legislation would appear allow the NTSB to have access to EDR data even in the event of a minor fender bender.
Currently federal and state highway taxes are paid through levies on fuel and some have suggested that the mandated EDRs are a preliminary step to GPS based mileage taxes. Highway taxes, state and federal, are collected through levies on gasoline and diesel fuel (“This truck pays $X,XXX a year in road taxes”). EVs and cars powered by natural gas end up paying no road taxes. Part D references information retrieval to facilitate emergency responses to accidents. That could only work if the data recorder also logged GPS data, so responders would know where to find accident scenes, but which could also be used to determine how many miles you traveled in which jurisdictions for taxing purposes. That comes close to perpetual surveillance.
Part D is potentially very troubling. I can’t see how EDR data can help emergency responders once on the scene, the legislation only makes sense if they have access to the data before getting on scene. It’s access to airbag deployment and GPS data that would facilitate emergency response, getting them to the scene of an accident quickly, not access to that and other data once on scene. None of the information stored in the EDR would be relevant to responders on scene. Part D seems to be purposed to give government agencies real-time access to systems like OnStar, so that emergency responders would be notified of airbag deployments and the like, along with GPS data to locate the site of the accident. Do you really want your government to have real time access to your GPS data?
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS