The federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) seeks new regulations requiring all automobile manufacturers to include “black box” data recorders in all new cars and light trucks. Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the regulations will “make our vehicles and our roadways even safer,” but that may well be doubted. The data recorders do nothing to prevent accidents and their function is strictly after the fact.
The recorders preserve data such as speed, braking, seatbelt use, steering and so forth in the five to 10 seconds before a car makes impact. This information can be downloaded onto a computer and is already showing up in court cases. Some cars have had the recorders since the 1990s but most drivers are unaware that, as one writer observed, “every time they get behind the wheel, there’s a snitch along for the ride.” Current recorders collect data in 15 areas, which the NTSB wants to expand to 30, including the seat position of the driver. The black boxes can’t be disabled and privacy advocates warn that government could easily misuse the data.
So the federal government wants more information from citizens, which will not make them any safer, and which could be used against them, without giving citizens any more information about the government their tax dollars support. This comes at a time when, according to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, we are seeing a “high level of opacity” in an administration that promised “an unprecedented level of openness in government.”
As Milbank noted, government secrecy has increased and efforts to promote accountability have been blocked. Ten federal cabinet agencies are less likely to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. The declassification process has slowed and new measures “significantly set back freedom of the press, thwart whistle-blowers and squelch the airing of dissenting views on intelligence issues.”
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, would function as a kind of “black box” data recorder by requiring government agencies to report spending in a way citizens could easily track. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support and passed on a voice vote. But as Milbank laments, “the Obama administration raised objections—and the transparency law has yet to see the light of day.”
The NTSB, meanwhile, wants the snitch surge to start September 1, 2014. Transportation boss LaHood, who thinks it’s a good idea, also supports California’s bullet-train boondoggle.