Use of Cars' Black Box Data Raises Privacy Concerns

ByABC News
March 31, 2005, 5:41 PM

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2005 — -- In what appears to be the first decision of its kind in the country, a Florida appeals court has made data from a car's "black box" permissible for use in a criminal prosecution case.

It's estimated 30 million cars are equipped with the technology -- also known as "event data records" -- that can help determine the events of an accident.

The devices work with sensors connected to the vehicle's air bag system and can record speed, seat belt use and braking.

Florida prosecutor Michael Horowitz used black box data in a 2003 trial to show that Edwin Matos, 48, was driving over 100 mph when he slammed into another vehicle, killing two teenage girls.

"We were able to tell the speed five seconds before the impact," Horowitz said.

A jury convicted Matos on two manslaughter charges, and he is now serving a 30-year prison sentence.

Wednesday's appeals court ruling upheld the use of the black box information in his trial.

"I think now, in many cases, this data and this information is going to be used in traffic homicide investigations, and now there's legal precedent that says it can," Horowitz said.

Attorneys for the defense argued the information was not reliable enough to be used as evidence.

"If any item is modified on the vehicle, including even something as little as the size of the tires, that can affect the accuracy and reading of the black box," said Matos' attorney, Jack Fleischman.

Use of the information also raises privacy concerns about whether drivers should own the rights to their black box data.