Is Your Car's Black Box Spying On You?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on April 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On March 14, the Senate passed S. 1813, also known as MAP-21. The bill, which has not yet been passed by the House, would require all new motor vehicles, starting with model year 2015, to be equipped with an "event data recorder" or black box.

Privacy advocates are concerned about the legislation, but the truth is that 85% of all new cars each year are equipped with some sort of recording device. And chances are, your car's black box is already spying on you.

"Virtually every car that has an air bag has some kind of recording ability," expert James Casassa told Forbes. Car black boxes keep a record of the seconds before a crash. They record speed, acceleration, when the airbag deployed, whether the driver hit the brakes and whether he was wearing a seat belt.

The information is vast, and as Forbes notes, it has been used to convict defendants accused of vehicular manslaughter.

As such, it's possible that MAP-21 is actually a good thing. Though the remaining 15% of new vehicles will need to be equipped with black boxes, the law aims to protect the privacy of all motorists. If passed, the data would belong to the vehicle owner or lessee and could only be accessed in the following situations:

  1. With consent;
  2. With court authorization, such as a warrant;
  3. When needed as part of a regulatory investigation; and
  4. To facilitate emergency services in response to a car crash.

Arguably, these provisions give you more control over the data on your car's black box than you currently have.

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