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Law would stop your car from spying on you

An Event Data Recorder, like this one, may soon be installed in every new car.
An Event Data Recorder, like this one, may soon be installed in every new car.Ramtron

There's no escape — your emails may be monitored, your calls at work can be collected, your tweets can be tracked — and your next car may record data about your driving, poised to dump the information to your insurance company should you have an accident.

For the past two years, Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., has been trying to pass a bill that would give drivers control over so-called black box or Event Data Recorder (EDR) devices, as they are called in the automotive industry. Capuano teamed with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and nine additional co-sponsors from both parties this week to file the Black Box Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 2414), an updated version of Capuano's past proposal.

An interesting part of the fallout from the NSA security leaks has been the surge in proposed privacy legislation concerning devices and their growing monitoring capabilities. Capuano also this week filed the We Are Watching You Act 2013, in an effort to protect consumers from future cable boxes and other TV equipment that could spy on customers through an array of sophisticated sensors. [See also: Verizon Denies Plan to Spy on Customers]

Event Data Recorders can't monitor how you're feeling behind the wheel (at least not now), but the tamper-proof devices do record driving data, such as speed, whether brakes were applied before a crash, forces at impact, air bag deployment and whether occupants were wearing seatbelts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants all cars and motorcycles built on or after Sept. 1, 2014, to have one. The NHTSA has said Event Data Recorders don't collect personally identifiable information or record conversations and therefore are not a threat to privacy.

The problem with NHTSA's plan is that there are no rules for who owns the data and how it can be accessed, according to Capuano. His bill would require manufacturers to notify car owners when Event Data Recorders are installed in their vehicles and disclose the devices' data-collection capabilities. The bill would also make it illegal for anyone other than the vehicle's owner to download or retrieve information without permission or a court order. Furthermore, under the bill, car owners could turn the device off — something they can't do now.

The proposed legislation has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee. But don't hold your breath:, a government transparency website that follows bills as they make their way through the legislative system, gives the legislation a 3 percent chance of getting past committee and a 0 percent chance of being enacted.

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