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You may already have a government spy under the hood of your car, and if the Obama administration has its way, all new cars will required to have one of these “black boxes” installed, to record your speed, brake usage, and other mechanical metrics.

Three months ago, in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated that his agency was considering making the installation of black box style data recorders mandatory.  Although the story has not been picked up by the mainstream media, several automotive trade journals are reporting that NHTSA is expected to issue new regulations in June, that will require black boxes in all new cars.

Similar in concept to the familiar black boxes used in commercial aircraft for decades, the devices will record information about speed, seat belt use and brake application, and the data to be retrieved for later analysis.   Certainly, insurance companies and auto manufactures will find this data useful in accident reconstruction cases, but federal and local government agencies have expressed interest also.

In March, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a proposal to institute a tax on mileage to help pay for the federal budget deficit.  If congress approves this tax, the black boxes will be of great assistance to Internal Revenue Service tax collectors.

And, of course, law enforcement agencies will be able to present data in court to prove violations of speed limits and seat belt laws.  The cops will be able to download information from these black boxes, and they can be used to issue driving citations after the fact.

Initially, some states will doubtless require search warrants before allowing the police to download black box data.  These warrants will be easy to obtain, since all a traffic cop will need to do is sign an affidavit that he personally observed a speeding violation, thereby providing “probable cause” for the issuance of a search warrant.  Next, motorists will be given the option of agreeing on the spot to a “voluntary search,” rather than have their vehicle impounded until a search warrant can be issued.

Eventually, the courts will determine that motorists have no “expectation of privacy” over the data in their black boxes, and instant downloads on the highway will become commonplace.  In the interest of “public safety,” the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures will go the way of the Dodo Bird.

If you think this “brave new world” scenario is farfetched, you should know that almost every new car already has a black box fitted at the factory. For example, GM has fitted one to almost every new car they've built since the early 1990s.

So, slow down, and buckle up.  Big Brother is watching.


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Thomas McAdam's picture

About Thomas McAdam

At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.

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