Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Spy Under the Hood

Thane Peterson at Business Week has a well-researched article on the privacy issues of "black boxes" that record various parameters about the cars in which they are installed. The article reviews the technology and how various states have responded with legislation. He also interviewed me for for story, asking about Canadian laws and my general views:

The Spy Under the Hood:

"... WHERE WILL IT STOP? What most worries privacy experts is the potential for abuse of black boxes as technology evolves. 'Once your start collecting information, there's always an impulse to collect more and more,' says David Fraser, head of the privacy practice at the law firm of McInnes Cooper in Canada, where privacy laws are stricter than in the U.S.

For instance, auto black boxes could easily be made far more elaborate by tying them into, say, in-car navigation or cell-phone systems. Indeed, long-haul trucking companies now routinely use sophisticated black boxes to monitor their drivers' driving habits in great detail.

Some insurance companies have run experiments in which they offer rate reductions to customers who agree to have their driving habits monitored by advanced black boxes -- leading to concerns the companies could structure rates to punish customers who don't agree to let their cars be monitored. California and New York have already passed laws prohibiting insurance companies from using black boxes in that way.

LEGAL 'HODGEPODGE.' Companies say they have no intention of making the boxes much more elaborate. 'We're sensitive to privacy concerns,' Snyder says, adding that 'it might lead to a huge reaction from privacy advocates and the general public.'

But Jeffress predicts that before long, the federal government will have to step in with a national data privacy law governing auto black boxes and other similar data-collection devices. 'Otherwise, we're just going to have a hodgepodge of state rules,' he says. And that won't serve the interests of either business or the public."

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