California Bill 994

by Jacques Gordon

General Motors launched the industry’s first telematics system in 1997 when OnStar Corporation began connecting with Cadillac owners through cell phones built into their cars. A few years later, auto manufacturers and their suppliers began advertising telematics for remote diagnostics and software updates. That’s when customers and the aftermarket began asking for legal clarification of two critical aspects of telematics: who owns the data collected by a car’s computers and who has the right to access that data?

There is still no national policy, but a bill has been introduced in the California state legislature that, if adopted, comes closer to providing some answers. State Senate Bill 994 was introduced by state senator Bill Monning in March 2014 as a proposed addition to California’s motor vehicle code. Below is a digest of that bill from the state’s Legislative Information Website.

This bill would enact the Consumer Vehicle Information Choice and Control Act. The bill would require a manufacturer of any new motor vehicle sold or leased in this state on or after January 1, 2016, that generates or collects vehicle information, as defined, to make certain disclosures to the registered owner regarding the generation and collection of that information. The bill would require the manufacturer to provide the registered owner of the vehicle with access to the vehicle information and the ability to securely transmit that information to a 3rd party selected by the registered owner, as specified. The bill would prohibit a manufacturer from limiting, impairing, or otherwise restricting, by any means, the ability of the registered owner to access, use, or transmit his or her vehicle information, and would further prohibit the manufacturer from taking any adverse action against the registered owner for accessing or using or transmitting his or her vehicle information, as specified. The bill would prohibit vehicle information from being downloaded, transmitted, or received by a person other than the registered owner, except as specified.

Sections of the bill include the wording of a notice to the owner that the vehicle is collecting information about how it is being operated. It also says the owner has the right to access that information and to choose who else can access it. The bill guarantees “fair and reasonable access” to tools and (service) information needed to retrieve and utilize the collected data, and the car manufacturers cannot change a fee or limit the owner’s ability to access, use or transmit the data to anyone they choose.

That answers the first question.

The bill also includes specific language saying the data may not be transmitted or accessed by anyone without the owner’s express consent, but there are two exceptions. One is the car manufacturer: they can collect the data (including the VIN) but can only use it “for purposes of improving vehicle safety,” and they cannot release it to anyone else unless they remove information that identifies the owner. The other exception is “in response to a court order.”

The bill can be found here:

While California Bill 994 addresses some long-standing concerns of those in the service industry, it still does not fully answer one question that may come up in a national policy on telematics and on-board data collection: if a court order forces an owner to release data in their vehicle’s on-board computer, could that be used to abrogate a citizen’s Constitutional guarantees against self-incrimination and unreasonable search-and-seizure? No matter how telematics and data gathering might be regulated, I believe the day will come when those regulations are challenged in court.
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