By Art Kunkin, Mr. Life Extension
My concern with being healthy and living for hundreds of years is very much connected with my desire to live those years in a democratic society. Therefore, I read with great interest a news report last Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, that the federal government’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has proposed to put event data recorders – better known as “black boxes” — into all new cars and light trucks beginning Sept. 1, 2014. Civil rights organizations all over the U.S. immediately began to protest the possible invasions of personal privacy that may occur if these black boxes are installed into all automobiles.
However, the fact is that automakers have already been installing early versions of such devices into most new cars for years even without government requirement. These black boxes automatically record the actions of drivers and the responses of their vehicles.
When a car is involved in a crash or when its airbags deploy, inputs from the vehicle’s sensors before impact are automatically preserved. That’s usually enough to record things like how fast the car was traveling and whether the driver applied the brake, was steering erratically or had a seat belt on.
The NTSB proposes to collect information that can help investigators determine the causes of accidents and lead to safer vehicles. But privacy advocates say government regulators and automakers are spreading an intrusive technology without first putting in place policies to prevent misuse of the information collected.
Data collected by the recorders is increasingly showing up in lawsuits, criminal cases and high-profile accidents. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray initially said that he wasn’t speeding and that he was wearing his seat belt when he crashed a government-owned car last year. But the Ford Crown Victoria’s data recorder told a different story: It showed the car was traveling more than 100 mph and Murray wasn’t belted in.
In 2007, then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was seriously injured in the crash of an SUV driven by a state trooper. Corzine was a passenger. The SUV’s black box showed the vehicle was traveling 91 mph on a parkway where the speed limit was 65 mph, and Corzine didn’t have his seat belt on.
Privacy complaints have gone unheeded so far. About a dozen states including California have some law regarding data recorders, but the rest do not. Concerns include government tracking of the movements and locations of private individuals.
In 2004, California became the first state to enact legislation (Calif. Vehicle Code § 9951). requiring manufacturers to disclose to customers that event data recorders are installed in vehicles. The law also prohibits download of that data without the owner’s permission or a court order. In a related area, California (Calif. Civil Code § 1936) and New York (New York Gen. Bus. Law § 396-z) have passed laws prohibiting rental car companies from using electronic surveillance or global positioning devices to impose fees, charges or penalties relating to the renter’s use of the vehicle.
“Right now we’re in an environment where there are no rules, there are no limits, there are no consequences and there is no transparency,” said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group. “Most people who are operating a motor vehicle have no idea this technology is integrated into their vehicle.”
“Basically your car is a computer now, so it can record all kinds of information,” said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers. “It’s a lot of the same issues you have about your computer or your smartphone and whether Google or someone else has access to the data.” The alliance opposes the government requiring recorders in all vehicles.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been pushing for recorders in all passenger vehicles since the board’s investigation of a 2003 accident in which an elderly driver plowed through an open-air market in Santa Monica, Calif. Ten people were killed and 63 were injured. After ruling out other possibilities, investigators ultimately guessed that he had either mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal or had stepped on the gas and the brake pedals at the same time.
Some automakers began installing the recorders when there were complaints that air bags might be causing deaths and injuries. They did so to protect themselves against liability.
Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., has repeatedly introduced legislation to require that automakers design recorders so that they can be disabled by motorists but has been unsuccessful in his efforts.
“Many of us would see it as a slippery slope toward big government and Big Brother knowing what we’re doing and where we are,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who is slated to take over the chairmanship of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in January. “Privacy is a big concern for many across America.”
Art Kunkin is the 84-year young journalist who founded, published and edited the Los Angeles Free Press in the 60s and 70s. He later became president of the Philosophical Research Society and now lives in Joshua Tree. A free download of a magazine cover story interview with Art about his research into stopping aging and living for hundreds of years is available at www.alchemyrevealed.com. Please come to Art’s Thursday “Circle of Friends” from 7 to 9 pm at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center where discussions are held about such subjects as developing personal power and achieving enlightenment more easily during an increased life span. For more information, please email Art at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the Retreat Center at 760-365-8371. Copyright 2012 by Art Kunkin, all rights reserved.