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California plaintiff lawyer Don Slavik says no one should assume black boxes "are dispassionate and accurate witnesses." He said he's had "numerous downloads that don't comport with physical reality."Consider the case of Kathryn Niemeyer, a Nevada woman who sued Ford Motor when her husband, Anthony, died after his car crashed into a tree in Las Vegas.
Her lawyers argued the air bag should have gone off and saved him, but they didn't want the black box data downloaded from the car's EDR admitted into evidence.
While the law is murky, the issue couldn't be more clear cut for some."You do have a right to privacy in your car," says Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, at least when it comes to data from automotive black boxes and infotainment systems.
The chief threats:• Electronic data recorders, or EDRs.
The move would have allowed GM to sell information that it collects not only from current subscribers but from cars of customers whose subscriptions to On Star had ended. Free On Star — for six months up to three years, depending on the model — comes as standard equipment in most new GM models.
The data would have come from the car's computers, reporting safety and diagnostic information such as fuel economy or the need for oil changes or tire pressure, details that would be shared with dealers or other GM affiliates.
Privacy becomes an issue when data end up in the hands of outsiders whom motorists don't suspect have access to it, or when the data are repurposed for reasons beyond those for which they were originally intended.And that can invade consumers' privacy, as General Motors found out last year.On Star, the General Motors unit that provides in-car communication at the push of a button, proposed a change in its customer agreement last year.The government is about to mandate installation of black-box accident recorders, a dumbed-down version of those found on airliners — that remember all the critical details leading up to a crash, from your car's speed to whether you were wearing a seat belt.The devices are already built into 96% of new cars.