Senate bill protects privacy of auto data recorders

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) have proposed legislation aimed at ensuring that data collected by event data recorders (EDRs) installed on cars cannot be accessed by the government without a court order.

Their Driver Privacy Act was prompted by a proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require the installation of data recorders on all vehicles. That prompted questions about who would own that data, a question the legislation answers.

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Under their bill, drivers would own the data, and it could only be retrieved by an agent of the government under certain circumstances. These include a court authorization, a medical necessity, or if it's needed to respond to a medical emergency.

That data could also be retrieved by NHTSA pursuant to an automobile recall, as long as personally identifiable information is not disclosed. Owners of vehicles could also decide to voluntarily offer the information.

"While EDRs can serve a useful function by helping to make cars and streets safer, access to the data should be treated as personal except under very specific circumstances," Hoeven said today. "Our bill makes clear what those circumstances are and helps to ensure that government and other entities respect the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans."

Klobuchar said EDRs can help improve road safety, but said privacy issues need to be considered along the way.

"This legislation addresses those concerns and makes clear that the owner of the vehicle is the rightful owner of the data collected by an event data recorder," she said.

Both senators spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday evening about their bill, and said it already has the support of a dozen senators.

They are Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mazie Hirano (D-Hawaii), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).