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Senator Wants To Ban Big Brother Black Boxes

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | April 5 2005

So-called "black boxes" for passenger cars are rare, but are becoming less so all the time. That concerns a North Dakota state senator who wants to banish Big Brother from the backseat by banning computer chips that collects information on speed and seat-belt usage in the vehicle.

While most cars on the road today don't have black boxes, most vehicles now being manufactured do, according to the National Highway Transportation Administration. What is disturbing, state Sen. Ray Holmberg frets, is that the vast majority of drivers have no idea they are there or that what's recorded might be used against them, "and there's no sort of regulation about who owns that information."

It's a privacy issue. Mr. Holmberg, a Republican from Grand Forks, bought a new car equipped with a black box that he was not told about. He is sponsoring a bill to require buyers to be told if their vehicle is so equipped with a black box. The measure would also forbid use of its data in court without a court order. Subscription services such as OnStar that track a vehicle's location would be exempt.

Carmakers oppose his bill. Insurance companies want the data as well, and some already give motorists who have the device a discount. But car insurance companies have survived for decades relying on their customers' driving records.

Already concerned about the increasingly nosy presence of government, do we really want a secret traffic cop in the car? At the very least, motorists should be told about the box, and if anyone wants access to the owner's private driving information, they should explain why to a judge.