Car tracking EDR data poses privacy threats

Published: May 13, 2014

All new cars sold in the United States will have data recorders that track the vehicle’s activities starting this fall, and all that data is raising privacy concerns in Montana. Cars sold in America and in all of next year’s models will have devices that monitor engine function, and can turn on that check engine light in your car. But they can also find a lot more.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is a co-sponsor of the Drivers Privacy Act which takes aim at the issue. “I think we’re on new ground here and that’s the point. This Driver Privacy Act is good because it protects people’s privacy.”

Rep. Zolnikov has similar legislation planned for Montana. “The big issue we’re trying to confront is, who does the information belong to, do they have control over it, who can collect it, and do people even know what is being collected and can they find out.”

The data varies according to the make, model and age of the cars – with vehicles from the 90s having relatively little information. The lawmakers we talked with say they want to stay ahead of the technology that they know is only getting more powerful.

Here is the extract from the proposed guidelines from NHTSA:

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today proposed a new standard that would capture valuable safety-related data in the seconds before and during a motor vehicle crash. The proposed rule would require automakers to install event data recorders (EDRs) – devices that collect specific safety-related data – in all light passenger vehicles beginning September 1, 2014.

“By understanding how drivers respond in a crash and whether key safety systems operate properly, NHTSA and automakers can make our vehicles and our roadways even safer,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This proposal will give us the critical insight and information we need to save more lives.”

NHTSA estimates that approximately 96 percent of model year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles are already equipped with EDR capability. These devices are located in the vehicle and require special hardware and software to copy the information. A crash or air bag deployment typically triggers the EDR, which collects data in the seconds before and during a crash. The data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety by ensuring NHTSA, other crash investigators and automotive manufacturers understand the dynamics involved in a crash and the performance of safety systems.

Examples of some of the information recorded include:

vehicle speed;
whether the brake was activated in the moments before a crash;
crash forces at the moment of impact;
information about the state of the engine throttle;
air bag deployment timing and air bag readiness prior to the crash; and
whether the vehicle occupant’s seat belt was buckled.
EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously.

Source: NHTSA


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