Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation contains what amounts to a “vehicle kill switch” requirement for automobile manufacturers. The proposal is being marketed to legislators as a safety measure that would cut down on drunk-driving incidents. The bill would require automobile manufacturers to build such capabilities in all new cars, starting in five years.
The provision was reported on by former U.S. Rep. Bobb Barr with the Daily Caller. Barr describes the measure as “disturbingly short on details” and said it should set off multiple red flags. The “safety” device would “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.”
In order for a car to be equipped with this capability, the system would always be on and casually monitoring the performance of the driver. It would also, of course, give automobile companies and, over time, other entities, such as law enforcement organizations, the ability to stop vehicles.
This would likely turn into a government function over time, all in the name of regulation. In addition, that the system would need to be “open,” or at least have a backdoor, meaning unauthorized or third-parties would be able to gain access to the system’s data. Such a system would be “mandatory” for vehicles built after 2026, according to the new legislation.
Remember that 2,700-page, $1 trillion dollar infrastructure bill that the U.S .government passed back in August? Well, have you read it? Of course we're joking -- we know you haven't read it. I don’t think most of the legislators who voted on it probably have read it, either.
However, a few folks have, and they're finding some pretty alarming things buried in that bill.
One of the most concerning things we've heard so far is the revelation that President Biden's and the Democrats' Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes a measure mandating vehicle backdoor kill switches in every car by 2026. The clause is intended to increase vehicle safety by "passively monitoring the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired."
Think About the Implications
If that sentence doesn't make your hair stand on end, you're not thinking about the implications.
By 2026, vehicles sold in the U.S. will be required to automatically and silently record various metrics of driver performance, which includes listening to you in your car, tracking your eyes and then make a decision via artificial intelligence (AI, i.e. absent any human oversight) whether the owner will be allowed to use their own vehicle. Even worse, the measure goes on to require that the system be "open" to remote access by "authorized" third parties at any time.
The passage in the bill was unearthed by former Georgia Representative Bob Barr. Barr notes, correctly, that this is a privacy disaster in the making. Not only does it make every vehicle a potential tattletale (possibly reporting minor traffic infractions, like slight speeding or forgetting your seat belt, to authorities or insurance companies) -- but tracking that data also makes it possible for bad actors to retrieve it.
More pressing than the privacy concerns, though, are the safety issues. Including an automatic kill switch with Internet access could create a new pathway for bad actors. We all know hackers already can access your vehicle and the computer / data system embedded in it. This new kill switch system presents the obvious scenario that a malicious agent could disable your vehicle remotely with no warning. Even if the remote access part of the mandate doesn't come to pass, the measure is still astonishingly short-sighted.
How Would Access Be Controlled?
Furthermore, there's also no detail in the legislation about who should have access to the data collected by the system. Would police need a warrant to access the recorded data? Would it be available to insurance companies or medical professionals?
If someone was late on their car payment, could the lender remotely disable the vehicle? Certainly beyond concerns of who would be allowed official access, there's also, once again, the ever-present fear of hackers gaining access to the data—which security professionals well know, absolutely will happen, sooner or later. As Barr says, the collected data would be a treasure trove of data to "all manner of entities ... none of which have our best interests at heart."
The Bottom Line
The privacy amendment refers to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. It assumes people enjoy a right to privacy in certain places and protects them against invasion by government agents. The privacy amendment applies to places where there is an expectation of privacy by the general population.
Barr also anticipates challenges to the measure on both 5th Amendment (right to not self-incriminate) and 6th Amendment (right to face one's accuser) grounds. He also goes on to comment on the vagueness of the legislation.
For additional articles about this kill switch legislation on our website, see: https://laurenfix.com
Lauren Fix, The Car Coach® is a nationally recognized automotive expert, media guest, journalist, author, keynote speaker and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and safety issues for both the auto industry and consumers. Her analysis is honest and straightforward.
Lauren is the National Automotive Correspondent for Newsmax TV, a conservative news net carried in 23 countries and in over 35 million U.S. cable/satellite homes. She is also The Weather Channel and Inside Edition’s auto expert. Lauren Fix serves as a juror for the esteemed North American Car & Truck of the Year Awards (NACTOY).
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