Opinion

Is Big Brother’s black box coming to your car?

One of the most far-reaching and frightening pieces of legislation to come down the pike in quite some time has passed the Senate and is being readied for quick action by the Republican-controlled House. Lurking within its many pages, divisions, titles, parts and subparts is a host of restrictions and federal mandates that would make George Orwell’s head spin.

The misnamed “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” commonly referred to inside the Washington Beltway as “MAP-21,” is so laden with federal highway and transportation funds that most House members probably will be inclined to vote for it without even reading the fine print. But it is that fine print that feeds steroids to the Washington Leviathan like few past pieces of legislation.

MAP-21 clearly bears the fingerprints of our nanny-in-chief, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, but it passed the Senate last month by a strong bipartisan vote, 74 to 22. The massive bill federalizes everything within sight of the feds’ roving eye. So-called “open-container laws” would become uniform under federal guidelines, as would heretofore state-enforced laws regulating treatment of repeat DUI offenders. Interlock ignition devices would fall within Uncle Sam’s grasp. The availability of electronic charging stations — to launch all those electronic cars no one is buying — would be expanded.

Perhaps most troubling, at least for anyone who harbors even the remotest interest in privacy, MAP-21 mandates that within three years every single passenger vehicle in the country must be outfitted with a “vehicle event data recorder” — the proverbial “black box.”

The secretary of transportation, of course, is empowered to determine what will be recorded by these black boxes and the manner in which information can be retrieved, so as to ensure “uniformity.” Notwithstanding the legislation’s lip service to the “privacy” of the information contained in the black boxes, the list of reasons that authorize government access is long and vague. “Investigations” by law enforcement, as well as directives in any “legal proceeding” (such as, for example, a divorce or other civil or criminal case), would justify piercing the thin “privacy” shield nominally provided by MAP-21.

The provisions in MAP-21 that raise serious privacy and federalism concerns are legion and alone justify its rejection by the House.

Any member of Congress who might still be tempted to cast an “aye” vote for MAP-21 in order to bring the transportation pork back to their district should read Section 40304 of the bill. This provision allows the government to deny a passport to an American citizen, and to rescind one already issued, simply because that person has a “serious tax delinquency.” In other words, if the federal government determines a person owes taxes, the State Department — an arm of the federal government charged with providing the protection of the American flag to citizens traveling to other countries — would have to revoke that person’s passport or, if he didn’t have a passport, would not be able to issue him one.

As Paul Joseph Watson wrote last week at Infowars.com, considering that the very same piece of legislation that mandates black box recorders in all passenger vehicles also empowers the government to rescind a passport issued to an American citizen, it is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude the information contained in those black boxes will be accessed and used by government for all manner of reasons. And none of those reasons are good reasons.

MAP-21 should be soundly and quickly deep-sixed by the House of Representatives.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.