I was pleased last week to testify in Congress about a draft bill that would mandate “event data recorders” in all new cars. Automobile black boxes or “EDRs” are an issue that found me a few years ago when I commented on their privacy consequences to a newspaper and heard from concerned drivers across the country.
My testimony to the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection had three main themes:
1) The Constitution doesn’t give Congress authority to design automobiles or their safety features;
2) Only a relevant sample of crash data is needed to improve auto safety—overspending on a 100% EDR mandate will keep the poor in older, more dangerous cars and undermine auto safety for that cohort; and
3) The privacy protections in the bill help, but consumers should control the existence and functioning of EDRs in their cars.
A co-panelist taking a different view was Joan Claybrook, President Emeritus of Public Citizen and a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In her testimony, Claybrook called for a near quadrupling of NHTSA’s budget to $500 million per year. She also called for the construction of what might be called “Total Auto Awareness” infrastructure.
“[T]he bill should require that the data collected by the EDR be automatically transmitted to a NHTSA database,” Claybrook wrote. She probably meant only crash data, and she paid lip service to privacy, but this represents a probable goal of the auto safety community. Our money, our cars, and our data are instruments for them to use in pursuit of their goals.
If this auto surveillance infrastructure is mandated, what EDRs collect, store, and transmit to government databases will grow over time.
They’re going to keep you alive, damnit, if it burns up all your freedom and autonomy to do it! It’s the beating heart count that matters, not the reasons for living.