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Consumer group says self-driving cars pose privacy risk

May 30, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • State Sen. Alex Padilla drives Google's autonomous car. A consumer group says his legislation allowing such vehicles does not have adequate privacy protections.
State Sen. Alex Padilla drives Google's autonomous car. A consumer… (Callifornia State Senate…)

A consumer group says a bill that would allow self-driving cars on California's roads does not do enough to protect privacy.

The bill, SB 1298, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), has passed the California Senate and is awaiting Assembly consideration in June. It establishes guidelines for "autonomous vehicles" to be tested and operated in California.

It has flown through the Legislature, passing the Senate unanimously.

Tech giant Google Inc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop such vehicles, which use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. Google has said that computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans.

The legislation should be amended to provide adequate privacy protection for users of the technology, said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

“Without appropriate regulations, Google’s vehicles will be able to gather unprecedented amounts of information about the use of those vehicles.  How will it be used?  Just as Google tracks us around the Information Superhighway, it will now be looking over our shoulders on every highway and byway,” Court said in a letter to Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles).

“The bill should be amended to ban all data collection by autonomous cars.  While we don’t propose to limit the ability of the cars to function by communicating as necessary with satellites and other devices, the collection and retention of data for marketing and other purposes should be banned,” he said.

A number of lawmakers test-drove Google's prototype autonomous Prius and "came away convinced that fostering this technology is the right direction for California," he said.

Padilla has argued that autonomous vehicles represent an important transportation advance and that California should make sure that it is at the center of the technology.

"Human error is the cause of almost every accident on the road today. If autonomous technology can reduce the number of accidents, then we also reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California's roads," Padilla said when his bill passed the Senate. "For me this is a matter of safety."

Padilla added that he believes self-driving cars also will improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles, reduce emissions and enable cars to talk to one another to improve traffic flow.

Self-driving cars must legally have a person at the wheel, ready to assume control if anything goes wrong.

Last year, similar legislation was signed into law in Nevada. In addition, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are considering autonomous-vehicle legislation.

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