It also sounds pretty benign, even useful. But unlike Weires, I'm a technology guy -- and I have a very acute sense of how seemingly harmless new technologies have a tendency to metastasize into something far nastier and, usually, end up invading our privacy or diminishing our freedoms. And, perhaps due to my own driving history, the story of Weires and his black box had sirens going off in my head.
Think of the worst possible scenarios, and whatever you come up with has a good chance of happening. For example, you know those random checkpoint stops that the police set up every year around the holidays to catch drunks. I've never been a big fan of them, mostly for civil liberties reasons, but like most people I endure this little inconvenience for the perceived larger good.
But what about a checkpoint where the cop walks up, plugs his laptop into your car and then tickets you for going over the speed limit three times last week? Put up some "smart" speed signs that send out signals to your car's black box and it would be simple to make the comparison. Like that one?
How about this -- because the black box also records the forces, such as yaw, on the car, the cop could also check the number of times you overstressed the car's suspension and arrest you for reckless driving. Oh, did I mention that there is nothing to keep the black box from recording your conversations in the car, your movements, the places you visited, etc., etc. Drive into the wrong neighborhood and you may void your car insurance -- and do so in real time when your black box gains a wireless "voice."
The car companies and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assure us that even if they were to gather this information, they would never, ever use it for the wrong reasons. Sure, just like Google promises to never look up your identity and to throw out all search records every six months. Just trust them -- even though, by their very behavior in all of this, the automakers and the NHTSA have already shown that they don't trust you. Oh, did I mention the small print in the owner's manual that says all of your car's black box info belongs to you … except when requested by a court order? I'm sure that makes you feel all safe and warm inside.
So, the solution is to just not buy a Nissan -- right? Well, no. In fact, most U.S. carmakers have already, or are about to, install EDRs. If you've got On-Star in your car, you certainly already have it. And if a car has an EDR, a new federal mandate requires that it monitor 30 different data points by 2012. Take a Ball-peen hammer or a jumper cable to your car's black box and you will be breaking the law.
The good news is that some carmakers have no plans to install EDRs. For some, such as Kia, it's a cost consideration on their low-priced cars. More interesting is at the other end of the spectrum, where Mercedes and other German cars don't carry black boxes because they are deemed to violate privacy laws.
Shouldn't that be some kind of clue? When the Germans -- who, after the Gestapo and the Stasi, know a little something about surveillance and the loss of privacy -- ban these devices, why should we let them into our daily lives?
I'm predicting a run on old cars very soon. Maybe it's finally time to buy that '67 GTO and laugh as I pass all those suckers whose powerful new cars refuse to let them exceed the speed limit.
This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.