Roman May 26, 2011 6:08 AM

Some insurance companies in Switzerland/Europe offer cheaper rates when drivers agree to have such a black box installed in their car.

Duncan Bayne May 26, 2011 6:53 AM

For a while now it’s been technologically possible to track the movements of ordinary citizens (the political elite are always exempt from such things) 100% of the time.

The only hurdles that remain are legal & societal.

Most States don’t care about the rule of law, & neither do most people (if you doubt the former, observe the actions of those States, & if you doubt the latter, observe the priorities of the nominally free voters in those States). So legal barriers don’t really matter.

And the societal barriers are gradually being eroded, too: CCTV, speed cameras, red-light cameras, airport screening …

I’m afraid that while I think it’s positively evil, we’ll have 100% surveillance within a generation in most affluent societies.

Imagine getting arrested for walking around without your mandatory GPS Citizen Safety Tracker For The Childrens Sake (TM) (R).

Unlikely, you say?

My grandparents lived in South Africa. I’ve seen their cards with my own eyes – they were required to carry them at all times as proof of their identity and race.

The more things change …

BF Skinner May 26, 2011 7:22 AM

” car companies initially claimed ownership of the data, courts eventually ruled that it belongs to vehicle owners and lessees. No federal laws govern access to black box data,”

So this is the second article that rattled in my inbox today. The first one
on “There’s a secret patriot act, senator says” by spencer ackerman

Seems Senator Wyden on the intelligence committee is worried about a provision in
the patriot act is being used in an overbroad fashion.

The “business-records provision” “empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices,
banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a
security investigation.”

Sen Udall (co-sponsor with Wyden on a Patriot Act Ammendment) believes that DoJ is interpreting business records to allow unfettered bulk
collection of citizen data like all of a telecoms cell phone records. “Just let us see everything
we’ll know what we want when we see it.”

So there IS a Federal law about data access on the black box. Even though it’s ostensibly
the vehicle owners property. If car companies are claiming ownership then the Feebies can exercise
th business record provision to access it.

Collection is an issue here. And if car companies aren’t collecting or aren’t collecting more
frequently than when the car is taken to the dealer I don’t know how valuable a general
collection would be for the IC. IF the blackbox is a transponder and disgorges it’s data to wireless
or remote probes it would become more valuable.

Hmmm easier to exploit means it’s more valuable.

TheDoctor May 26, 2011 7:36 AM

And there goes the (N+1)th technical device that stabbs your back.

Video recorders of all kind that listen to killbits in the video stream and suppress record or whatever where the (N)th devices

Clive Robinson May 26, 2011 7:52 AM

Aside from the legal and societal issues, there is the important aspect of technical issues.

Unlike aircraft black box recorders these auto black boxes are designed and manufactured for the lowest possible price.

Thus it is a safe bet that the software and hardware will have failings some known/suspected by those working for the manufacturer some unknown.

Further I doubt that sufficient effort will go into making either the recording devices or the sensors the information recorded is derived from sufficiently secure to be counted as sufficiently reliable to be used as court evidence.

Nor I suspect will anything other than a quick “data slurp” be performed by LEO’s etc.

Thus in the case quoted of the 100MPH+ driver crashing into the reversing car if he had known of the existance of the device he could without much technical knowledge have interfered with the sensor such that it only recorded half the actual speed.

We are in Europe seeing the start of suspect tampering with the devices used in busses and lorries even though these are made to much higher and exacting standards.

Albert May 26, 2011 7:52 AM

If you are carrying a cellphone they already know where you are and where you have been. The car black box is just another way to verify that the cellphone geolocation data is correct. Now you have two independent systems that can be checked against each other.

karrde May 26, 2011 8:17 AM

The big difference between an automotive-data-recorder and a flight-data-recorder is that the FDR records audio of comms between the cockpit and the control tower. (Do they also record the inside-the-cockpit chatter? I thought so, but I’m not sure.)

In the car, that is not necessary. (Though not impossible…what, you don’t have a car with voice-command functionality?) If voice comms are not recorded, it will be harder to infer the intention of a driver when reconstructing an accident.

Not that voice comms would make such determination easy for every accident…

Frisbee May 26, 2011 8:30 AM

After Toyota was found not-guilty in the “unintended acceleration” (other than the floor mat issue) crashes/deaths for the last 2 years based on black box analysis, I’m surprised all auto manufacturers don’t included comprehensive black box recorders to protect themselves. Given everything is electronic, they could record as many parameters as their little hearts desire.

Anonymous 1 May 26, 2011 8:41 AM

karrde: CVRs do record all cockpit conversations, not just radio traffic.

BF Skinner May 26, 2011 8:45 AM

@Clive “software and hardware will have failings some known/suspected … some unknown.”

Hmmmm. New revenue stream for people who can demonstrate the failings for a lawyer to be presented in court?

Dave Marcus May 26, 2011 8:47 AM

Progressive Insurance has taken the first step to this. In most states they are now offering a discount if you plug in a black box for 6 months. “Your driving snapshot includes the number of miles you drive, time of day you drive and how often you make sudden stops. People who drive less, in safer ways and during safer times of day could get a discount.”

Regarding privacy, they say “We won’t share Snapshot data with a third party unless it’s required to service your insurance policy, prevent fraud, perform research or comply with the law. We also won’t use Snapshot data to resolve a claim unless you or the registered vehicle owner gives us permission.”

FAQs at

JohnJ May 26, 2011 8:52 AM

I find it troubling that the data from the recorder was used in court. Since buying a vehicle with a recorder is done at the owner’s option, doesn’t the admissibility of recorder data go against the 5th Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination?

Unless I’m mistaken, that the data is essentially created at the offender’s option is why automated toll collector data isn’t used to automate speeding tickets.

S May 26, 2011 9:58 AM

So, a rather timely article, given that this is exactly the sort of stuff we were talking about last week. No need for the Feebies to sneak around in your drive with their big tubes o’ batteries any more…

@ Dave Marcus: ‘We won’t share Snapshot data with a third party unless it’s required to… comply with the law’

Gives you a nice safe, warm, fuzzy feeling inside, doesn’t it?

@ Clive ‘We are in Europe seeing the start of suspect tampering with the devices used in busses and lorries even though these are made to much higher and exacting standards.’

It’s been a few years since I drove a lorry where you could defeat the tach for the purposes of overtaking by yanking a fuse from under the dashboard and putting your foot down. I’m sure their methods are a bit more sophisticated these days 🙂

@ karrde re. voice comms: perhaps unlikely, but don’t quite a few cars these days track your eyes using a camera in the instrument cluster which can tell whether you’re drifting off to sleep, or looking out the side window?

‘Yes, we know that it was your right of way and the other driver pulled out in front of you, but since you were retuning the radio at the time, you have been adjudged to be at fault for this accident.’

/will DEFINITELY stick to old bangers, as if I needed any more reasons to…

No One May 26, 2011 10:13 AM

One more nail in the coffin of recreational driving. I give it 10:1 odds that if this passes then insurance companies will use blackbox information to raise rates on or refuse to cover accidents for people who legally race their cars under an incorrect assumption that (legal) racers drive more dangerously on the street. (My experience has been that the better you are on a track the more likely you are to follow the law off the track.)

echowit May 26, 2011 10:31 AM

RE the 5th and data ownership:

I thought, as referenced in the article, that the 5th was “updated” to deny protection for diaries, journals, etc.. as it is deemed to only apply to testimony, not “history”.

Business records, both private and those owned by services/utilities, have been used as evidence since forever. Not sure why EDR records would be different.

S May 26, 2011 10:34 AM

@ No One: ‘My experience has been that the better you are on a track the more likely you are to follow the law off the track’

Indeed; my insurance premium actually went down after gaining my MSA licence.

I’d say it’s less about following the law per se than greater awareness of how to control the car, the limits of the car and your reactions, and the effect of external conditions like weather. All of which has been gained in much safer scenarios than hooning about the public roads at the age of 17 in a tiny car with a ridiculously overpowered engine. Although of course that’s where I originally learnt to power slide…

Captain Obvious May 26, 2011 10:46 AM

I didn’t disable the black box. I don’t know why it has no data. The fuse is blown? I wonder when that happened…

grumpy May 26, 2011 10:51 AM

As this piece is talking about the moments up to an impact, I fail to see any problems at all.

1) Cars are driven in public, hence there can be no expectation of privacy. Hell, people can use Eyeball Mark I to see what you’re doing, no need for fancy technology for that. What next – should we abolish laser/radar guns etc. because they invade privacy? The mind boggles.

2) Cars are driven in public, hence the actions of the drivers can impact other people’s lives quite seriously. Actually, I’d love to miss out on the opportunity to pay for the damage done by the local nitwits to pedestrians, bikers and other drivers if EDRs in all vehicles would mean that people behaved reasonably with their multi-ton over-engined lumps of metal. Nothing like a little accountability to tame the idiots, methinks…

karrde May 26, 2011 10:57 AM

@S: eye-tracking appears to still be in the realm of the potential inside of cars, instead of the actual.

(I work at an auto supplier, and someone asked if driver-eye-tracking was possible at a recent meeting…)

S May 26, 2011 11:03 AM

Re. eye tracking: the latest Lexus LS definitely has it, and since that’s been out a couple of years I assumed it had started percolating down to the lower reaches of the market.

Pretty much every gizmo in modern cars originally appeared in the Merc S class, or more recently the Lexus, before becoming more common.

For e.g., the latest Ford Focus (UK – don’t know if it’s called something different in the colonies) now has the completely automated parallel parking, which also debuted on the same Lexus I believe. Pretty staggering technology for a car aimed at that market segment, even if it’s presumably a rather pricey cost option.

Roy May 26, 2011 11:08 AM

If the device is manufactured by the carmaker, who would trust what story it told? They would engineer it to exonerate the themselves, regardless of what actually happena. Although the idea started with safety in mind, it will be providing the maker safety from ‘frivolous’ lawsuits.

jdbertron May 26, 2011 11:18 AM

But texting while driving is still allowed. Great we’ll spend millions to find out what we already know, people don’t pay enough attention at the wheel, then we’ll spend millions trying to legislate stupidity, and then we’ll spend millions to find out it doesn’t work, and more millions to have cars that force you to pay attention. Meanwhile we’ll have lost more liberties because just a few people ruined it for the rest of us.

a May 26, 2011 11:23 AM

@grumpy –

I am not (currently) required by law to carry around people who observe my every action while driving at my own expense, and I do not want any systems on my vehicle that I am not in control of.

Further, using “Eyeball Mark I” to observe drivers creates a bottleneck on how much an agency can observe at one time, and I’m not sure that taking that away will solve more problems than it creates.

karrde May 26, 2011 11:57 AM

S: acording to Wikipedia, you’re right about eye-tracking in the Lexus LS. (I guess it’s part of the drowsy-driver detection system, or something related…)

Dick Cheney's Left Aorta May 26, 2011 12:27 PM

Just think of the possibilities…

  1. Divorce discovery
  2. Placing “suspects” near crime scenes
  3. Raising your insurance rates based on data such as speed, breaking, high crime areas you visit
  4. Police being able to remotely track and disable your car
  5. Forced inspections, updates, replacements and other costs to you and $ to the industry
  6. Attaching forced payment systems to your car for toll roads and red light running
  7. Prosecution for parking/attending subversive meetings (religions,music festivals, etc) found thru GPS
  8. Added costs to vehicles passed to you and help bloat Government Motors, Inc.

Pvt. Joker May 26, 2011 12:59 PM

Scope creep is the real problem. If we could trust what we are told about the use of the data collected, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But because we can safely predict that the data will be put to novel uses, many of them against our personal interests, we resent having that data collected in the first place.

No data collection without stringent (and enforced!) controls and laws governing what happens after collection!

JohnJ May 26, 2011 1:17 PM

@jdbertron – “But texting while driving is still allowed.”

Where? Every jurisdiction I’ve ever been in has distracted/dangerous/reckless driving laws. These laws apply just as much to texting as they do to changing the radio station, grappling with a hot beverage, shaving, applying make-up, and any other activities that take your focus away from the task at hand.

Smart legislation doesn’t tie itself to one set technology.

Tim May 26, 2011 1:25 PM

The auto makers will be against this, as it will have to hold details of any technical issues too in order to be a true record. Currently there can be faults in (particularly stability & braking control ) systems that either cause or fail to prevent accidents and there is no way of knowing they have occurred, whereas once the box has records of these faults then the lawyers can go after the makers.

  May 26, 2011 2:00 PM

Am I the only one looking forward to the day when Google knows everything about us?

Don May 26, 2011 2:09 PM

Not that I’m naive enough to consider this likely, but here’s a great opportunity to use open-source software, so we can find out what the device DOES do, rather than speculate about what it MIGHT do.

I would trust the device IF its software were open-sourced, and I chose the encryption key that prevented data downloads without my consent. (I’d leave a copy of the key with a trusted friend in case of fatal accident.)

Clive Robinson May 26, 2011 2:43 PM

@ Don,

“I’d leave a copy of the key with a trusted friend in case of fatal accident.”

That would be most unwise, not just for you but for your friend as well.

Let me put it gently, the Feebies amongst many many other LEA’s are alowed to lie and use coercion against your friend. Your friend on the other hand is not allowed to lie or even not answer the question without looking at serious jail time at the very least.

Under these conditions there is no such thing as a “trusted friend”, plain and simple.

Unfortunatly the way of the modern civilised world is to be worse than the Police States of old, turning friend into foe and enemy into faux friend.

Trust nolonger has it’s old meaning, modern trust is gained by having ultimate power over “friend or foe” such that they dare not betray you lest they or their family and friends suffer….

It is the way of things these days where the sheeple demand protection from imagined enemies conjured up by press and politicos for their own manipulative ends.

There is little or nothing you can do about it or as Richard Steven Hack is often seen to remark “suck it up”…

Don May 26, 2011 3:46 PM


It’s always wise to ask, “what’s the threat?” If police want to do warrantless surveillance of little old me, they aren’t going to get a lot more from an event recorder than they can get today from putting covert GPS on the car.

If they want their surveillance to be covert, it would be convenient for them to be able to download my event recorder at will. Using encryption (controlled by me) would force them to demand the key, so they couldn’t as easily be covert. That would be a protection worth having, albeit a small protection.

Oh, and the word “sheeple” is actually a lot less persuasive than you might think.

a May 26, 2011 4:28 PM


I’m not so sure. Nissan already has a similar system in the GT-R that they use to invalidate warranty claims.

stuart lynne May 26, 2011 5:05 PM

Sure there are all sorts of possible problems but the bottom line is that this CAN reduce the number of traffic accidents by making people accountable so it WILL happen. There is no longer any technical reason to not do it.

Automobiles and driving is one of the most dangerous activities that takes place in Western society with about 40,000 people killed (in NA) every year.

Western societies are grabbing at every straw to make life safer in all respects. From fire codes to earthquake proof buildings to keeping terrorists out of cockpits and now to clamp down on what most people perceive as dangerous driving. You don’t have the right to drive dangerously so there will be little that can be done to prevent this happening.

Anything that reduces that substantially is a good thing. Long term (5-10 years) the cars will generally be driving themselves anyway and there will be a shift away from human drivers who will be viewed as far to dangerous to allow behind the wheel.

You may not like the idea but as soon as the technology gets cheap enough it will happen (mostly its getting the sensor pricing down, computing power is more or less there already.)

Richard Steven Hack May 26, 2011 5:38 PM

The Fast and Furious movies must have scared the Feds – especially this last one. (I want that armored vehicle Johnson was in.)

“the word “sheeple” is actually a lot less persuasive than you might think.”

To sheeple, yeah.

Technology can and will replace humans eventually. But there’s a difference between choosing to be replaced (more properly, upgraded) and just being replaced just as there is a difference between technology you control and technology that controls you (for the benefit of someone else).

ƒ(tommy) = Σ(t)1 → ∞ May 26, 2011 6:01 PM

@ karrde: ONSTAR has recorded or monitored conversations inside vehicles, for those who allowed it or didn’t disable it. Under the guise of “safety”, of course.

As noted, all conversation in the cockpit is recorded (been there, done that, got T-shirt) which is why they have to be quiet when chug-a-lugging, and repress the urge to exclaim loudly at the climax of a lewd act …. and seriously, to ensure compliance with the “sterile below 10,000′ ” rule: No non-flight-ops-related conversation until climbing above 10,000′ on takeoff, or upon descending below 10,000′ on landing. (Do you own metric conversions. If you know enough to be here… 😉

Can’t the guy who made the Blackhole exploit kit
make us a kit to exploit our auto-spyware, delete, or better, modify? (I’ve never driven over 30 mph in my life! heh heh)

Dirk Praet May 26, 2011 7:18 PM

Sometimes I have friends asking me why I’m so fascinated with American politics and how on earth bizarre stuff like the fourth and the fifth amendment of the American constitution has any bearing on us over here. The reason is very simple: for decades on, any wind blowing over the US sooner or later reaches Europe too. We’ve had our fair share of both the good things and the bad things. Some made us better, some made us worse.

But what I’ve been seeing for the last couple of years really isn’t pretty. I find it mind-boggling how the self-proclaimed leader of the free world is slowly turning into an authoritarian police state ruled by a corporate oligarchy that for all practical purposes owns both executive and legislative branches of the government. No week goes by without some sponsored representative laying bills on the table to further increase government surveillance powers to combat real and imaginary enemies, in the process establishing 24/7 control over every citizen’s every move. How is this any different of what China is doing ?

There was the warrantless Bush wiretapping program. We’ve witnessed the rise of the TSA subjecting every traveller to bodyscans and full patdowns. The unconstitutional Patriot Act has just been extended for 4 years without any amendments, while several senators have argued that it is being abused on a massive scale by secret DoJ and LEA interpretations hidden from the public. There’s the proposed extension to CALEA, the IP Protect Act and so on and so forth. To make things even worse, big corps like Apple and Google built in all kinds of tracker mechanisms into both hardware and software and have little or no problem with these data getting into government hands. The proposed new rules for mandatory black boxes in cars is just another step in the same direction.

I’m not getting it. It would seem to me that more Americans are concerned with the rantings of a raving lunatic announcing the end of the world than with the slow but progressive erosion of their constitution and civil liberties. As for the TEA-baggers, I’d really like them to explain to me wherein the logic lies of frantically denouncing government interference at all levels while at the same time supporting if not driving exactly this kind of legislation. Do allow me to doubt that this is the kind of state their Founding Fathers had in mind.

Just like Clive, I’d like to quote RSH at this point: “Suck it up. Big Brother is now watching you”. Don’t come crying when sooner or later he’ll be knocking at your door. You only have yourselves to blame for it.

Richard Steven Hack May 26, 2011 7:36 PM

Dirk: “Don’t come crying when sooner or later he’ll be knocking at your door. You only have yourselves to blame for it.”

Except in my case (and probably yours). I have THEM to blame for it. Which is why I’m generally pissed all the time.

Still, once I have the money I’ll deal with the government as it deserves (i.e., just try and track me or even find me – and they’ll need to because I’ll be punching holes in their “security” for profit.)

In the end, the reason people allow the government to do what it does is because the people who know the government is “wrong” (for whatever reason, Al Qaeda or me or whoever) do the things that make the rest of the people scared the government isn’t “protecting” them. Which is why they’re targets in the first place.

If they stopped being afraid and took some responsibility and dumped the state, they wouldn’t be afraid in the first place and wouldn’t need the government and therefore wouldn’t be forcing other people to attack them and therefore wouldn’t need the government to “protect” them.

But then they wouldn’t be chimpanzees, would they? But they are.

Remember: the essence of the state is: “You do whatever we tell you and give us everything you have and we’ll protect you from the bad people inside and outside our borders – and if there aren’t any bad people we’ll make some.”

Works every time with chimpanzees throughout history.

Dirk Praet May 26, 2011 8:14 PM


Well, I guess we both just have a big mouth and an irritating habit of questioning and defying authority. If it weren’t for those congenital defects, we’d probably both be millionaires and dating Angie Everhart and Summer Glau instead of spending time on Bruce’s blog.

tommy May 26, 2011 10:53 PM

Re: Airplane cockpit voice recorders: True story, not the least bit funny, except at the expense of the naiveté of newscasters, etc.:

A couple of decades ago, an airliner (Pacific Southwest, IIRC) collided with another aircraft mid-air, and was helplessly plunging to the ground. After the recordings were transcribed and released, newscasters were cooing over what a loving, devoted son the pilot was, because his last word before impact was,


(seriously, true.)

Re: Telltales: For some years, outboard motors have had telltale max-RPM logged in the ECM, a modern version of the old tell-tale speedometer or tachometer max-needle (highest ever achieved). So if you take it in under warranty, and the redline is, say, 6000 RPM, but the ECM says you were at 7000 once, they could disallow warranty coverage.

This can happen if, say, the propeller is under-pitched to pull up a heavy water-skier, or several skiers, and you’re not careful when running without that extra load. No idea how secure that is against user-tampering – never an issue for moi; never looked into it.

@ Dirk Praet: All sadly true, but it started loooooong before GW Bush. Check out Bill Clinton and the attempt to implant the Clipper Chip; the arrest of Phil Zimmermann for committing the “crime” of writing instructions to implement encryption the Gov coudn’t crack (4th and 5th Amendments? How about the First?),

FDR confiscating gold coins of US citizens in 1933 by “Executive Order” (no such thing exists), despite the Constitutional provision that only gold and silver shall be lawful money:

footnotes [6] through [10]

which was enabled in 1913 by POTUS Woodrow Wilson, who created the Federal Reserve Board and gave it authority to print (counterfeit) paper money (footnotes [3] through [5] in the same source), contrary to said Constitution;

Internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during WWII at Roosevelt’s order, etc. ad nauseam.

I’m with you, my friend, but you left out the only political party committed to upholding the ideals on which the USA was founded, the Libertarian party.


Vles May 27, 2011 1:49 AM

I think it’s ridiculous, not helping at all in traffic safety, just allowing someone to crunch more numbers….after the fact. What type of repeat traffic incidents involving cars do law enforcements face of such technical difficulty and such criminal nature that necessitates the installation of such a device that is sitting there alway recording data? The ease of access to data that potentially can be used for anything but that 1 traffic incident he/she may be convicted for? For what good? (How many traffic accidents can a car be involved in, in its life?)

I can understand putting a black box in aircraft, because one must be able to hold to account a company which is responsible for the safety of some n hundred people while travelling through the air, in what is essentially a container carrying n liters of kerosene which, because of its flammability, must be handled as a hazardous substance. But a car? Isn’t the person driving it responsible for it’s maintenance, it’s handling on the road and interaction with other vehicles? Are there no laws ensuring cars are maintained, insurance is bought, operators are trained and licensed and of sane mind? When did the state stop trusting in it’s own people?

I was reminded of this TED talk that more technical systems do not always make for better solutions in combating a problem.
Just because you technically can, does not automatically mean it makes more sense. And if you wish to install black boxes, perhaps keep them to trains and buses – for the public and by the public – and ban cars altogether!

There’s a cost and no direct value… I argue the device’s use – directly or indirectly – will not even effect a decrease in traffic accidents. Only an increase in knowing how the accident came about. And you can’t say this data will then be used to design and build better cars.. they are extensively crash tested…using dummies, not real people.

On perception and reality – life lessons from an ad man…(The view on road safety involving cars is at 5:55, should you not wish to view the whole video).

“Persuasion is often better than compulsion” – cheaper too!

Vles May 27, 2011 1:51 AM

  • to edit:
    err.. the owner is of course responsible for the cars maintenance etc.., but the driver is trained, licensed and of sane mind.

averros May 27, 2011 2:23 AM

@Dirk Praet: “any wind blowing over the US sooner or later reaches Europe too…”

I’m afraid, the Fascist wind was going the other way… hopefully, the current resurgence of official fascism in US has woken up the very vocal and rapidly organizing libertarian “fringe” in the US. Which, combined with the imminent bankruptcy of US Govt is going to make life here interesting, and possibly very profitable to those of us who are not affiliated with the current regime. Collapse of the USSR made quite a lot of people very rich (and quite a lot of others ended up dead), and turned the country with completely decayed industry and infrastructure, on a brink of hunger, into a livable place in a matter of years. Collapse of the US can make America very prosperous, very quickly.

ATN May 27, 2011 3:51 AM

I didn’t disable the black box. I don’t know why it has no data. The fuse is blown? I wonder when that happened…

Probably the car won’t start without the computer working.
I am more bothered by another angle: I had an accident, but fortunately had time to modify the data in the black box to prove that it is the other party fault…

S May 27, 2011 4:09 AM

@ averros: whilst trying not to get too far into politics, it’s always mystified me how the turkeys can be persuaded not only to vote for Christmas (or Thanksgiving), but be so incredibly enthusiastic about it!

Collapse of the US into your fantasy post-industrial libertarian state will only make you prosperous if you’re already fantastically rich, or have a large stockpile of guns. The other 98% of the population will have to choose between indentured service and starvation.

BF Skinner May 27, 2011 6:54 AM

@Don “find out what the device DOES do…not going to get a lot more from an event recorder than they can get today from putting covert GPS on the car.”

Yeah. True enough. But we’re exploring how it CAN be abused based on what other abuses have been done. Even though I raised the LEO canard I’m having difficulty seeing how they could exploit it which is why your first point is on target. What data is being collected, how long is it maintained in the black box, is it offloaded any time?

@Clive “no such thing as a “trusted friend”
That leaves lawyer, priest and doctor. Maybe your PI as long as the bill is paid. WHile it doesn’t stop lying or pressuring it does prevent threats of legal reprecussion. I’d go for a blind escrow if there is such a thing.

@a invalidate warranty claims

Now that seems more likely. Keep Ins. Co. and the like from paying out. (Just because the USG mandates it doesn’t mean it’s in the interest of the government…just SOMEONE’s interest).

So how is data integrity maintained? Can I prove that my ins adjustor paid off a mechanic to manipulate the data so that my claim can be disavowed? Are the boxes going to be treated as evidence with a chain of custody? Who maintains it?

Tim May 27, 2011 7:52 AM

@BF Skinner… very good point about data integrity, the ability to edit it will be rather valuable indeed so there is incentive for these systems to be cracked very quickly. I wonder if Chris Huhne would concur.

Clive Robinson May 27, 2011 7:59 AM

@ Don, BF Skinner,

“find out what the device DOES do…no going to get a lot more from an event recorde than they can get today from putting covert GPS on the car.”

Err actually they can.

The GPS data is effectivly a low pass filter on the vehicles actuall movment and speed etc.

So for instance GPS data cannot say when you started breaking (if at all). Or exactly when you slapped your foot on the gas to try to accelerate out of a problem etc etc.

@ Don,

“It’s always wise to ask, “what’s the threat?” If police want to do warrantless surveillance of little old me.”

You appear to be making the mistake of thinking what an LEO does to you must be premeditated or personal, most of the time it’s not. That is they have absoultly no interest in you as an individual, just a number on their arrest/charged list towards making their monthly target.

Further the US Gov like most other Western Gov’s is out of cash, they cann’t realy raise taxes any further so what they do is withhold it from the agencies and local enforcment authorites etc. To make up for the short fall they make many many crimes punished by fines. The whole system is used to raise revenue under some other “think of the children” banner, with the benifit they can say they have cut back on Gov spending…

Saddly the US has a significant problem, in that the number of accidents/deaths on the road are effectivly rising, however it appears that the number of accidents/deaths from guns is not only falling but has now dropped below the road accident fatalities. All of which makes bringing in road traffic legislation all the more likley.

On another point in the UK it is supposadly illegal to use a mobile phone in the normal way whilst driving though nearly all motorists do it. That is you can use a hands free kit, but if you have an accident then you get a charge of “careless driving” or worse.

Some UK police authorities are now siezing mobile phones when an accident has happened and using the information to see if they where using it at some point whilst driving. They then say that a person is a careless driver, even if they were not on the phone at the time of the accident…

Currently it’s lorry drivers and other vehicles with taco’s that are getting hit, but it won’t be long before they try it on (if they have not already) with ordinary motorists.

No One May 27, 2011 10:22 AM

@stuart lynne, “Automobiles and driving is one of the most dangerous activities that takes place in Western society with about 40,000 people killed (in NA) every year.”

I am a commuter who has had family members injured and even killed in car accidents and I myself nearly died in one at a young age. And even so, I say this with no qualms: That rate is acceptable to me compared to surveillance. I’m all for more one-time or even recurring testing (depending on how onerous it is — if you can’t accommodate people who work 7 AM – 7 PM M-F then it’s unfair) for licensing or requiring better training (which would have to be affordable, but why not make the manufacturers of cars pay for training instead of pay for the black boxes?) in order to be licensed. I am opposed to surveillance to coerce people to “drive safely”, especially since so many don’t know what that means and are so bad at risk assessment.

@Clive Robinson, “Some UK police authorities are now siezing mobile phones when an accident has happened and using the information to see if they where using it at some point whilst driving.”: German police on the Autobahnen do this if you are pulled over or in an accident. Though they only check if you were using the phone at the time of the incident. If you get into an accident and were on the phone then you are criminally liable and your insurance company has reduced liability. (They probably just don’t have to pay to fix your car, not sure on the specifics.) The problem I see with this, however, is that what if your passenger was using your phone for the call? I don’t think science supports that that is a dangerous practice currently.

Don May 27, 2011 11:49 AM

BF Skinner: “I’d go for a blind escrow if there is such a thing.”

There isn’t. We’re talking about giving someone a means to decrypt your data on your behalf. We can’t also make it impossible for them to decrypt your data. This is why DRM is such a failure, but that’s another topic.

Clive: “You appear to be making the mistake of thinking what an LEO does to you must be premeditated or personal, most of the time it’s not. That is they have absoultly no interest in you as an individual, just a number on their arrest/charged list towards making their monthly target.”

Entirely beside the point. If they are interested in knowing where I go, whatever their motive, they can find out without using a built-in event recorder. The proposed new technology isn’t a new problem if I’m under surveillance anyway, and avoiding the new technology isn’t a solution.

On the other hand, if the cops would like to know where I was YESTERDAY, when they weren’t yet thinking about me, I don’t want them to be able to find out effortlessly. That’s a new and different threat, and one solution would be controlling or disabling the car’s event recorder.

Werner May 27, 2011 12:43 PM

Step 1: Mandate black boxes in all new cars.
Step 2: Require them to have a wireless interface, accessible by the police. Justify it with expediency.
Step 3: Make it the car owner’s responsibility to keep the black box in working order.
Step 4: Set up checkpoints where the data is retrieved en masse and compared against all speed limits in the area, etc.
Step 5: Cash in the fines. Fine those who successfully object to the charges on technical grounds for not keeping their black box in working order.

There are many situations where people are committing minor traffic violations – sometimes inadvertently, sometimes to avert a greater risk. A system giving this level of control would make sure that each and every one such case could be turned into government revenue.

Such a cheap – for the government – but efficient system would also provide a great incentive for setting up new restrictions where they surprise the drivers.

  • Werner

Clive Robinson May 28, 2011 7:35 AM

@ No One,

“The problem I see with this, however, is that what if your passenger was using your phone for the call?”

It’s one of these “guilty untill proved innocent” traps we are seeing more and more of.

If It’s the drivers phone it would be up to the driver to prove there was a passenger (if for previous occurance) and that it was the passenger using the phone.

This gives rise to an akward situation that you are dependant on “anothers good graces” to prove you are innocent.

As a current UK Politico is finding out, those closest to you when “scorned” are likley to become “hostile witnesses” and thus proving your innocence retrospectivly may be impossible, unless you have the foresight to install concealed surveillance cameras etc in your vehicle and store the footage indefinatly…

But as many will probably point out “this is paranoid behavior”, to which I would counter that this will become the norm as the state expands it’s revenue raising activities through the process of fines.

However keeping the footage etc raises further questions of privacy, and the right not to “self incriminate”. As various Buss Companies have found putting surveillance equipment in is a double edged sword. Should an accident etc happen an opposition lawyers can either get the footage, or if it’s unavailable cast suspicion on the person for tampering/ destruction. Either way they can have a field day in court…

@ BF Skinner, Don,

“I’d go for a blind escrow if there is such a thing.”

By name no, but there are ways to do anonymous escrow quite easily, and there are reliable methods of “sharing secrets” via “M of N Shares”.

So it would be possible to do if you had groups of friends etc that were unknown to each other, but could be called together by the legal entity processing your Will/Estate.

@ Don,

“On the other hand, if the cops would like to know where I was YESTERDAY, when they weren’t yet thinking about me”

That is exactly my point (though it may not have come across).

Put simply the cost of pulling over a person is very high, official figures put it up between 10 and 20 thousand USD [1].

So it makes sense to the accountants to get “best value”… Now as cross checking the times when mobile calls are made against an electronic tacho record is very cheap in comparison to the pull, they can get “better value” for each pull, especialy if the crimes are both very likley and “revenue producing” and the LEO gets 15-30% of the money…

Thus I feel a degree of confidence in predicting that should such black box devices be installed in peoples vehicals with a standard interface then devices to cheaply slurp the data and search electronicaly for speeding and other offenses will quickly appear…

[1] – This is because it’s usually calculated as the “total annual cost” divided by the “number of pulls”… So it also includes amongst other activities “dunking doughnut time” for the cops and maintanence people etc etc [2].

[2] – And often the accountants “double dip” that is other duties carried out such as attendance at accidents costs by the same crews vehicals and equipment etc are also calculated as “total annual cost” divided by “number of accidents attended”. Importantly in neither case is a correction made for the “dual function” it’s always “total annual cost” thats used irrespective of the number of different functions the crew etc do [3].

[3] – if you have any doubt about this “cost inflation” just look at the way LEO’s “estimate” the “damage cost” of stolen information etc that they give to the press and use in court against those who have stolen it. It used to amaze me back in the days “ego cracking” when they would say a cracker did X thousand damage. Where X was a number frequently in the hundreds when all that was often required was a re-load of an existing backup tape, and an Admin actually doing their job of “patching” etc.

jacob May 31, 2011 2:49 PM

ok. my question will this magic black box also tell the authorities at the scene of the crash that the steering wheel came off in my hands? or truck dropped it’s gas tank resulting in the fiery crash? (recent recalls). Nope, just that I hit at 40Gs or that the explosion happened at 9:03 on I95. Well, they will catch my articulate string of cuss words..though.

Hoover would have loved this. Have convenient jumper cable for black box…waiting…

Doug Coulter June 1, 2011 6:33 PM

It really does seem that the OnStar system already has most of these capabilities, and hacks exist to disable it (mainly knowing where the correct fuse out of zillions in which fusebox is).

I’d love to hear of a real hack for it, that let you find out what it was doing and sending home in realtime and so forth. The satellite version of Wireshark might be nice….

I have evidence they don’t use it for much yet – I own such a car that I’ve had over 180mph many times and no knocks on the door or evil tickets in the mail — I do do this safely for others (empty spaces) for what it’s worth, and mostly on racetracks.

Clive, the only time gun deaths exceeded auto deaths in the USA was before the adoption of automobiles — even during the Vietnam war gun deaths didn’t quite catch up to fatal accidents according to official records. A mere factor of a few (in favor of auto deaths) separated them even then. As pointed out above, for many decades auto deaths have hovered around 40k (it was 36k/yr in the ‘Nam years). Firearm deaths, even including in the services during wars haven’t come close, with exceptions in WW I and II alone.

And of course, those deaths weren’t in our country.

Nick N June 2, 2011 12:18 AM

If they get that standardised interface into all the boxes then we can all use the free MoTeC software to analyse our driving data, cool.

Clive Robinson June 2, 2011 1:12 AM

@ Doug,

“Clive, the only time gun deaths exceeded auto
deaths in the USA was before the adoption of

Which is what you would expect, and I had assumed until fairly recently.

However there have been a number of programs and other articles and reports produced in the past couple of years that say otherwise and give various US Government dept’s in their credits / sources.

But this is not the first time I’ve had problems with trying to get hard data on road and gun deaths due to the way they are reported or not reported in some cases.

For instance the auto death rate in the US and various European nations is very different. The reality appears to be that the US has over twice the death rate per head of population than the UK.

Which is not easily accounted for but…

When viewed in other ways (journy numbers / distances etc) appears significantly better or worse, so is subject to the usual “which way you grind your axe” issue.

But in some cases it’s considerably worse, for instance some country comparison studies use not the population number but a number based on normalised life expectancy of the population per year. Which whilst it might be valid for some types of study makes the data effectivly useless for other uses (especialy when you don’t know how the “life expectancy” is calculated for each country).

More interestingly is how even the “raw data” differs, that is what deaths do and do not get included in the figures and why.

Some are actualy only “direct RTA deaths”, some are “deaths on the road” whilst others are “deaths attributable”.

Deaths attributable to road accidents often include people admitted to hospital from a RTA but subsiquently dying of other complications whilst still in hospital or shortly thereafter. In some cases you might well have not died if you had been in a different hospital or ward, or you might well have died at home of a heart attack, stroke or other disease you had already got such as a respiratory disease irrespective of the RTA.

Likewise the reporting of deaths on the road as an RTA death when infact the driver had a heart attack or stroke etc and may well have been dying before they actual lost control of the vehicle and crashed.

Again what gets in the figures of the supposed “raw data” depends “on which way you grind your axe”.

I’ve had similar problems with gun deaths it appears that the numbers vary wildly depending on who is reporting it how they got their data and the way it is recorded.

When the raw data includes “Death related to guns” you sometimes get people included who don’t have bullets etc in them. I am aware of one “gun crime death” where the person was involved with a drive by shooting lost control of the vehicle and had a head on crash whilst not wearing a seat belt…

In some places hunting accidents and suicides are not included in gun death figures because they are not crimes.

The only reliable conclusion I’ve realy come to is there is no such thing as “raw data” available because even this depends on “which way you grind your axe”.

Oh and I’m not implying that all the people collecting the information are being dishonest or even trying to push an agenda. Often it falls to the way data gets reported, it is a kind of lossy data compression that results from normalising the data into limited categories that might well have been chosen for quite arbitrary reasons.

For instance the police would use one system to report deaths at the scene and the hospital would use an entirely different system to report the subsiquent death in the hospital. For obvious reasons the systems are entirely different and this causes real problems for the people building the overall stats.

Even where there is a common reporting mechanism such as a death certificate this contains to little information, likewise for autopsy reports. Usualy though autopsy reports don’t become “raw data” for studies for obvious reasons, and even when they do they only contain a limited subset of data relating to the death.

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