I-Team: Car 'black boxes' reveal your information - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Car 'black boxes' reveal your information

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LAS VEGAS -- What does your car know about you? And who is it telling? Modern automobiles are rapidly becoming computers on wheels -- and you might not know what data is being stored about you and who has access to it.

While you have a right to remain silent, your car may not. Black boxes in automobiles are already helping police solve crimes and unravel fatal accidents. But, it raises the question about whether your car should be spilling its guts to people you don’t know, including data miners and hackers.

Who can forget the images of carnage when Gary Lee Hosey drove drunk into a crowd of people at a bus stop on Spring Mountain Road. What you may not know is that police pulled from the wreckage a witness for the prosecution that was cold and calculating.

Police recovered an electronic module called an event data recorder. It’s designed to control the deployment of airbags in a serious crash. It acts like the “black box" in an airliner. Police can download the data with a laptop computer.

“The collision is actually milliseconds, but what we're looking at is the vehicle behavior prior to and maybe shortly after that collision. Sometimes it's only 7 seconds, but we can get a lot of information out of that vehicle,” said Sgt. Richard Strader, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Information pulled from Hosey's data recorder shows he was doing 89 miles-per-hour just five seconds before impact and that he never touched the brakes before plowing into his victims.

While the electronic evidence was never used in court because Hosey pleaded guilty, police are routinely accessing this kind of data after serious crashes.

“We try to download every vehicle that we come in contact with. If we can't get consent then we'll move for a search warrant,” Strader said.

“It's very difficult to know what your car is recording about you -- and how long it's storing that data. So, that's the first thing; we need to know what our cars know,” said Nate Cardozo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Cardozo isn't overly concerned about event data recorders, because they're limited in what they record and don't broadcast it. However, he is troubled by the amount of information modern infotainment systems might be storing and who has access to it.

“Right now, we have no way of knowing what the manufacturer does with the data,” he said.

Some of the advanced systems in cars can -- and do -- record your Internet searches, text messages, even entire phone calls, if you make them through the system.

“If you go on Ford's "My Sync" Terms of Service, it says the data can be shared, and that includes, not only your location, but emails and text messages you dictated using the system with their corporate partners. Who the corporate partners are isn’t revealed.

If worrying about who has access to your information isn't enough, the fact that cars are increasingly becoming “computers on wheels” brings up another problem -- hackers.

“Even if they don't provide it to you, the car has access, for its own systems, over the cell network. And yeah, those systems are not particularly well secured,” Cardozo said.

Last month, the I-Team showed a video of high-tech car burglars who were using a mysterious electronic device to bypass car alarms and unlock doors, including the possible use of the gadget in Henderson.

“Automobile manufacturers don't have a lot of experience in computer security and network security. They need to really get back up to speed. We can't let car thieves and hackers get ahead of automobile manufacturers,” Cardozo said.

When you agree to the Terms of Service for some systems like "My Sync" you give the car maker, or its service provider, permission to record and store your calls.

Cardozo and other privacy advocates are trying to get legislation passed that will allow a consumer to opt-out of the data sharing part of the service without having to opt out of the entire service.

Ford claims it only shares recorded call and text messages with its service provider for the purpose of making the system better and improving voice recognition technology. Cardozo says the language is broad enough that there may be a number of companies involved in the data sharing to help improve service and they're concerned about it.

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