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Big Brother Hitches a Ride

by Nan Swift / /

For months, Congress has been engaged in a prolonged debate over the “Highway Bill.” Now in conference, it’s common knowledge that this massive bill is regarding federal funding for highway safety and construction projects. The noise coming out of Washington surrounding the bill has trended toward topics like jobs, spending, big price tags, and even the Keystone pipeline.  While more government spending is bad enough, what is worse in some ways are the things in the bill people aren’t talking about.

What aren’t your legislators talking about? They aren’t talking about a provision in S. 1813, section 31406 that requires all new cars sold in the U.S. starting in 2015 to contain event data recorders (EDRs) or “black boxes.”  This new black box mandate poses serious privacy threats and is an unnecessary power grab on the part of government.

Ahead of the first conference meeting on the highway bill, Sen. Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment  and Public Works Committee and lead sponsor of the Senate bill, stated:

“Now is the time to set aside our personal wish lists and focus on the issue at hand – the reauthorization of a bill that is absolutely essential to our economy. Controversy should not be part of the conference and we should come together for the good of the country.”

If that is the case, by Boxer’s own reasoning, the black box mandate should be the first to go from her own bill, both due to its controversy and to any ATM-like job-killing potential this electronic device might have.

Joking aside, TheTruthAboutCars.com has an insightful write-up on the issue. The article describes how parts of the mandate give the federal government new powers previously held by the states and opens a potential floodgate when it comes to government surveillance.

Theoretically 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.

In addition to creating a slippery slope for new government incursion into your everyday life, even the National Motorists Association points out that they are wholly unnecessary.  Unlike airplanes that experience problems thousands of feet in the air where the conventional “black box” is essential to discerning what went wrong and how to prevent future tragedies, the NMA explains that:

… from a research perspective, there is no rational or scientific need nor justification to equip tens of millions of vehicles on a perpetual basis with black boxes.

While denials abound there is good reason to believe that the promotion of universal black box installation in new vehicles has more to do with regulatory, enforcement, judicial, and corporate economic interests; all at the expense of vehicle owners who are forced to pay for and retain this form of self-surveillance.

Go here to sign the pledge urging members of Congress and President Obama to oppose any federal action to mandate the use of black box data recorders in personal vehicles.  The pledge sums up the problem:

  1. Is an infringement on personal privacy and freedoms.
  2. Would be a slippery slope for Government to track citizen's transportation habits and location.
  3. Is both an unnecessary expansion of government police power and an undue mandate on consumers and business.

Unfortunately, tracking its citizens seems to be a theme with government lately, at all levels. While the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that warrants are required for law enforcement to affix GPS trackers to personal vehicles (over the disagreements of the Obama Administration), warrantless searches of cell phones (basically a personal GPS) are still permissible. And just this week, Reason.com posted a story about how the DEA is trying to convince legislators in Utah to let them scan and store license plates for future reference.

Libertyvoice.net is also following the story and offers a few scenarios about where all this surveillance could lead. Here’s one hypothetical, but not unrealistic scene:

A DEA risk-analysis system alerts the police in Utah that the same car is traveling between Salt Lake City and Nogales, Arizona on a monthly basis. The next night, a divorced father visiting his child in Arizona receives a knock on the door from federal agents to interrogate him about his travel. Perhaps, with the help of other, circumstantial evidence, they even get a warrant, execute a paramilitary raid, and shoot his dog dead, traumatizing his child.

We need to kick Big Brother to curb. Go here to sign the pledge.