04/28/03 - Tyler
Could Your Car Be Spying On You?

   Adrianne Newman loves her SUV. But she never knew it was spying on her!

   "Shocked. Completely surprised," she says.

   Like many cars, Adrianne's has a black box - similar to those in airplanes-- that keeps track of her driving.

   "What you do in your own car you think is private. To be told that you're being recorded, it's an invasion of privacy."

   As many as 40 million cars on the road today have "black boxes." These event data recorders monitor airbag activity. But some models also track your speed, when you hit the brakes and if you're wearing your seatbelt. Some only activate right before a crash. Others monitor constantly but re-record information every five seconds.

   David Sobel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center says most drivers have no idea they're being recorded.

   "I think the whole concept of secretly collecting information about people and their daily activities is something that most American citizens react to very negatively," Sobel says.

  This attorney is defending a woman accused in a deadly crash. Police are using the black box she never knew she had... to put her on trial.

   "It's akin to having "big brother", having a government agent sitting in the back seat with the individual," says attorney Bob Weiner.

   But, not everyone thinks "black boxes" are bad.

   "The technology used today is just unbelievable." Mark Dixon is the service director at Robert Peltier dealerships in Tyler.

   "We can get throttle openings, speed, brake impulse sensors -- most of the engine performance data," he says.

   It's information that can keep your car from breaking down. And the "black box" can tell rescuers you have crashed, and save your life.

   "The OnStar system is in these new cars, so if you're in an accident, they call and let them know you've been in a frontal collision -- that the airbag's deployed," Dixon says.

   Officer Chuck Tiedje was in a crash... nearly killed when a hearse slammed into his cruiser.

  "I was in a coma for 26 days." Now, he's filed a lawsuit and believes the hearse's black box will help him prove that driver was at fault.

   "The black box is a beautiful thing because it peels away all human emotion and gives you cold, hard facts. This is what happened."

   Adrianne says she's is all for truth and safety. But everyone should know about every-thing under the hood.

   "It's about letting everybody know -- and being aware - that, ya know, that they are being monitored."

   It's important to note that car dealers and their service departments don't have access to all the data on the recorder, just what's needed to service your car. Your car-maker, and their engineers, are the only ones who can access all the information. They say it has made cars much safer in the few years they've been in widespread use.

   Experts say not to try to access or disable the data sensor, as it could damage your airbag system.

   Morgan Palmer, reporting.



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