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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ind. Courts - "Black box recorders in cars raise privacy concerns"

Tim Evans of the Indianapolis Star reports today on the admissibility of information from automobile data recorders, or "black boxes." Some quotes:

Regardless of which side of that debate you fall on, experts say, the "event data recorders" are here to stay. The information they provide about speed, acceleration, braking and impact is being used in a growing number of Indiana court cases.

Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Tom Hirschauer said data from the recorders — a sort of poor cousin to the black boxes long common in airplanes [ILB: or not, as the auto recorders may be more advanced] — are now being used in an estimated 70 percent of criminal prosecutions in Marion County involving traffic accidents that result in serious injuries or fatalities. That is up from about 20 percent just a few years ago.

"The question we normally ask in an investigation is whether speed and braking were a factor?" Hirschauer explained.

That question can often be answered by the data collected by the black box recorders.

"It tells us exactly what the vehicle was doing at the exact moment of impact and in the seconds just prior," he said. "It's real-time data from the vehicle. We are able to tell if a vehicle was accelerating, how much the throttle was open, the speed, whether the brakes were on or off."

The majority of new vehicles have recorders, and the federal government is expected to soon make them mandatory. Recorders operate whenever a vehicle is running, continually capturing information about key systems on a small hard drive.

The information is saved in half-second intervals, writing over itself every five to 20 seconds. When the airbag is deployed, a snapshot of the seconds before the crash is captured. While all recorders monitor speed and braking data, some also collect data related to engine RPMs, sudden swerves and rollovers. * * *

[Richard R. Ruth, a retired Ford engineer who runs a consulting business that provides expertise in automotive restraint systems and event data recorders] said the laws around the country are unclear on whether a warrant is needed to obtain recorder data, but a 2011 appellate ruling in California determined a warrant is unnecessary.

About a dozen states, but not Indiana, require a warrant, and a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require a warrant or the owner's consent before police could seize an event data recorder.

"In the United States, your home is your castle," Ruth said. "But the jury is still out on whether that extends to your vehicle."

In Marion County, Hirschauer said police obtain a search warrant from a judge before extracting data from a recorder. That eliminates any question about violating the 4th Amendment prohibition on unlawful search and seizure.

ILB: The ILB has located two earlier posts on auto black boxes. A 2004 LCJ story raised concerns about use of data from cars' black boxes in court. A 2005 ILB post was headed "Car's Black Box Evidence Ruled Admissible in New York," and also discussed a NW Indiana trial court case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 27, 2014 11:37 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts