Auto Safety Or Auto Privacy?

Raymon Holmberg didn't know his new sedan came equipped with the long arm of the law. The dealer hadn't bothered to mention the "black box," a computer chip that stores information on speed and seat belt use.

"When I bought my car," he said, "I didn't realize I was also buying a highway patrolman to sit in the back seat."

Holmberg, a state senator, believes his privacy was violated and is taking aim at black boxes. Lawmakers in 10 other states are also hoping to regulate black boxes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The bill Holmberg is sponsoring — now up for Senate consideration after being approved Wednesday by the House — would require buyers to be told if their new car or truck is equipped with a black box. It would also prohibit the data from being used in court unless there is a court order. Subscription services such as OnStar, which can be used to track a vehicle's movements, would be exempt.

Its most vocal critics are auto manufacturers. For General Motors, said lobbyist Thomas Kelsch, it makes no sense to bar information from the computer chip from being used in court.

"What's the societal good that would result from the suppression of valuable crash data?" Kelsch asked.

But Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican, again raises the privacy issue. He worries the data could be used to track driving habits or be used against a driver who has an accident.

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