Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Morgan Griffith Shares Privacy Concerns

From Congressman Griffith's E-Newsletter:

"Information on the practices of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues coming to light, including conferences on which the IRS spent around $50 million over three years, at a time when we were being told there was little fat in the budget.  This follows the IRS admitting to having inappropriately and improperly handled applications from conservative groups.

Even more recent are reports of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs that have been collecting data on the internet sites you visited and telephone usage records of most Americans.  Furthermore, it has been reported by the Wall Street Journal that credit card companies have provided customer information to the NSA.

These revelations have upset many on both sides of the aisle who are skeptical of government power and supportive of individual rights and privacies.  I opposed the long-term extension of the Patriot Act in part because I was uncomfortable with the idea of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) giving secret organizations permission to look at the secrets of American citizens who hadn’t done anything illegal.

These are outrageous and disturbing examples of ineptitude and overreach that I will continue monitoring moving forward.

Event Data Recorders

A constituent recently reached out to express his concerns about ‘black boxes’ – event data recorders (EDR) that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates are currently installed in 96 percent of new cars and that, according to USA Today, track “your seat belt use, speed, steering, braking and at least a dozen other bits of data."

While the EDRs may be valuable in collecting crash data, questions remain – questions like who the EDR’s information belongs to, for example.  Does it belong to you, the car’s owner?  Does it belong to your insurance company, which may use the information to increase your rates?  Or does the information belong to lawyers or law enforcement, who may be able to access the information without a warrant?  Should you have the option to turn off the EDR?

While in the Virginia House, we debated similar issues.  I copatroned H.B. 2135, legislation to ensure that motor vehicle insurers could not include provisions in policies that would authorize the insurer to obtain data stored in the EDR, and supported H.B. 2134, that would clarify that information recorded to an EDR belongs to the owner and can only be retrieved with the owner’s consent or after having obtained a traditional search warrant issued by an appropriate court (not the secret FISA court).  Regrettably, these bills did not become law.

You may remember when the in-vehicle communications system OnStar came under fire for saying it planned to continue monitoring the vehicle activity of owners who no longer subscribed to OnStar.  OnStar even suggested that it may sell that data before media reports caused it to change course.

Important to note is that services like OnStar are optional.  The NHSTA has proposed making EDRs mandatory, recommending that all new consumer vehicles come equipped with EDRs beginning next year.  The NHSTA said, “in keeping with NHTSA's current policies on EDR data, the EDR data would be treated by NHTSA as the property of the vehicle owner and would not be used or accessed by the agency without owner consent."

However, after the events of the last few weeks, this may not sufficiently reassure many Americans concerned about their privacy.

It is past time for a federal solution.  For that reason, I am cosponsoring the Black Box Privacy Act, which will clarify that a vehicle’s owner also owns the EDR’s data and that the information may not be accessed without the owner’s permission or without having obtained a valid, properly-issued search warrant.  It also would require manufacturers to provide consumers with the capabilities to control the EDR’s recording function, in other words, you could turn it off.

I will continue working to ensure that the American people have more control over their information – be it phone records or the information collected by your car’s EDR. As always, if you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office by email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. "