Privacy rules eyed for 'black boxes'

| 7/22/2005

As most anyone involved in the transportation industry can attest, black boxes are finding their way into more and more vehicles.

In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are roughly 30 million U.S. vehicles out on the road with so-called “black boxes.” Anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of new vehicles have them, NHTSA reports.

So popular is the technology that state legislatures are working on efforts to regulate vehicle data recorders, often referred to as black boxes or electronic on-board recorders, to give vehicle owners control over any data collected.

At least 15 states considered efforts this year to regulate information from black boxes. California already regulates the recorders.

This information could include the vehicle’s speed, direction of travel, location, steering performance, braking performance, and seat belt status and wreck information.

The issue was enough of a concern in North Dakota that lawmakers and Gov. John Hoeven signed off on an effort requiring automobile dealers to disclose the presence of a recording device, providing that the information stored in such devices is property of the vehicle owner and forbids insurance companies from requiring disclosure of the information as a condition of insurability. The information can only be accessed by consent of the owner or through a court order.

“As technology advances so do the risks of intrusion into personal privacy,” Hoeven said in a written statement on the new law. “This bill informs our consumers and puts in their hands the choice of who they want to share their private information with.”

Similar legislative efforts also won approval in Arkansas, Nevada and Texas.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signed a bill into law this spring that assigns intellectual property rights to the data in the black boxes to the vehicle owner and “prohibits the use of the data without written permission” of the vehicle owner. A similar rule has been OK’d in Texas.

In Nevada, a new law requires manufacturers to disclose the existence of the black boxes to buyers. It also restricts the use of information retrieved.

Efforts in other states still active include Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.