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Charly Haley, Forum News Service, Published January 15 2014

Hoeven, Klobuchar introduce driver privacy bill

While driving in North Dakota, the information in a car’s “black box” – such as whether the seat belt is buckled and how far the accelerator is pressed down – belongs to drivers.

But cross the river into Minnesota, or drive in 35 other states, and that data can be accessed by law enforcement, insurance companies, automakers and others without the driver’s consent.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., aim to set a national standard. The senators introduced the Driver Privacy Act on Wednesday with the goal of making sure drivers in all states own the information in their cars’ black boxes, also known as event data recorders or EDRs.

“We need to get on the front end of the issue” to protect privacy, Hoeven said in a phone interview.

North Dakota was one of the first states with a law ensuring drivers’ ownership of their EDR data, Hoeven said. He signed the bill into law as governor in 2005.

EDRs have the ability to continuously collect at least 45 pieces of information about a vehicle that can be retrieved at any time, according to a news release from the senators. The information includes direction, speed, seatbelt use, front seat positions, number of times the vehicle has been started, number of crashes and more, according to ConsumerReports.org.

Privacy concerns

Data collected by black boxes play an important role in vehicle and traffic safety, Klobuchar said in the release. But it’s the “legitimate concerns about privacy” that the Driver Privacy Act addresses by making it clear that the data belongs to drivers, she said.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for public rights regarding technology, called for better EDR privacy protection in a release last year. The nonprofit stated that specifically EDRs’ long-term gathering of information, outside of what may be needed short term in a car accident, is invasive.

While EDRs aren’t in every vehicle, their presence has greatly increased since first being introduced in the 1990s, Hoeven said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 96 percent of new 2013 car models have EDRs, according to the senators’ offices.

And all light-duty vehicles manufactured after September 2014 will be required to have black boxes as part of rules proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2012.

‘Uniformity’

This legislation is a move “in the right direction,” said North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, who sponsored the bill for North Dakota’s similar state law in 2005.

“I think it’s an issue that North Dakota stepped up to the plate early,” Holmberg said. Now, there are 14 states with an EDR privacy law.

“It would be logical that the feds step in and make some uniformity,” Holmberg said.

The Driver Privacy Act has already gained the support of about 20 senators, Hoeven said, including Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

North Dakota’s state law on EDR privacy has been successful, Holmberg said. “I think it accomplished something because it raised awareness at the time.”

Holmberg, Hoeven and Klobuchar agree that advancements in technology play a major role in the need to maintain citizens’ privacy.

“As technology develops, that puts privacy at risk,” Hoeven said.

Some of that risk comes from government, Holmberg said, and some comes from “what people are doing themselves,” such as posting photos and personal information online.

“The government should be doing what it can to protect people’s privacy,” Holmberg said.

Driver Privacy Act

The Driver Privacy Act bill, sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., specifies that data from a car’s black box, or event data recorder, belongs to the driver. Under this legislation, EDR data could only be retrieved if:

  • Authorized by a court of law.

  • The vehicle owner or lessee consents to the data retrieval.

  • The information is retrieved as part of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall and all personally identifiable information is not disclosed.

  • The information is retrieved in determining the need for emergency medical response following a car accident.

  • The information is retrieved for traffic safety research.

    Forum News Service

    On the Web: For more information about EDRs, visit http://bit.ly/1dRMSRe.