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Nation/World

December 8, 2012

Black boxes in cars raise privacy concerns

(Continued)

“Black box,” a term for a device whose workings are obscure, is most widely used to refer to flight data recorders, which continually gather information about an aircraft’s operation during flight. Aircraft recorders, by law, are actually bright orange.

Some automakers began installing the recorders at a time when there were complaints that air bags might be causing deaths and injuries, partly to protect themselves against liability and partly to improve air bag technology. Most recorders are black boxes about the size of a deck of cards with circuit boards inside. After an accident, information is downloaded to a laptop computer using a tool unique to the vehicle’s manufacturer. As electronics in cars have increased, the kinds of data that can be recorded have grown as well. Some more recent recorders are part of the vehicle’s computers rather than a separate device.

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.

A transportation bill passed by the Senate earlier this year would have required that all new cars and light trucks have recorders and designated a vehicle’s owner as the owner of the data. The provision was removed during House-Senate negotiations on the measure at the behest of House Republican lawmakers who said they were concerned about privacy.

“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,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who is slated to take over the chairmanship of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in January, said at the time. “Privacy is a big concern for many across America.”

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