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A private eye inside your car?

So what’s the big deal about “car privacy” legislation?

Several lawmakers, including Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, have been active in promoting legislation to safeguard automobile privacy.

The problem is that information is being collected beyond the basic “black box” crash data — things like GPS data tracking where you’ve been, and mapping data tracking where you plan to go.

Lighting a fire under the concern is a recent Government Accountability Office report, detailing how some automakers keep private information collected from onboard navigation systems and mapping software for varying lengths of time, according to the New York Times.

 Worse yet, car owners have no legal right to ask that it be erased.

The report was requested by Franken, who has been a passionate advocate of privacy rights in the face of a tidal wave of unregulated technology that threatens to bury the very idea of privacy.

GAO investigators found that the 10 automakers, navigation device manufacturers and application developers surveyed did not make owners aware of all the risks of the data collection, like allowing third parties to track their location or gather sensitive information such as their religious and political activities and preferences, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

“‘Information about your location is extremely sensitive,’ said Franken, who is chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, and said he planned to introduce a bill that would set guidelines on when a vehicle owner’s location could be shared.

“‘If someone has a record of your location, they can figure out where you live, where you work, the doctors you visit and where your kids go to school.’”

Klobuchar has also been active on the auto privacy front.

She has cosponsored a bill, along with North Dakota Sen. Jon Hoeven, called the Driver Privacy Act, which would make sure that the data recorded in a car’s event data recorder or “black box” belongs to the driver, and can’t be retrieved by others without a warrant.

“Unlike the black boxes on airplanes, which continually record data including audio and system performance, the cars’ recorders capture only the few seconds surrounding a crash or air bag deployment,” the New York Times reported.

But the capabilities of the black box may well increase, and as more vehicles add Internet connectivity and location-based services, it’s time for government to get ahead of the curve for once on privacy-invading technology.

The black box is just the tip of the iceberg:  New cars come equipped with a range of software and digital equipment, and much of that equipment is already sharing information, not just recording it.

That includes the location of your vehicle, courtesy of its GPS system.

Franken’s bill would protect your ability to keep your location private.

It’s time to move on this legislation before all expectations of privacy are swept away.

Those closest to the problem understand it best: The bill is supported by the chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co.