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Biden Build Back Better Bill Conceals Backdoor ‘Kill Switch’ For Cars

Written By | Dec 10, 2021
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Car Coach collage, highlighting the highly questionable kill switch provision in the controversial “Build Back Better” legislative package.

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s so-called Build Back Better bill contains what amounts to a potentially far-reaching, mandatory “vehicle kill switch” requirement for automobiles. The proposed Biden Build Back Better bill would impose this requirement on all  automobile manufacturers selling cars in the US market. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr reported the existence of this provision recently in an article posted on the Daily Caller. Barr describes the measure as “disturbingly short on details,” noting that it should set off multiple red flags.

What’s a kill switch? And why should we be concerned?

Remember that 2700-page, $1 trillion dollar infrastructure bill that the US government passed back in August? Well, have you read it? Has anyone? Of course, we’re joking. We know you haven’t read it. I don’t think most of the legislators who voted on it probably have read it either. Some folks have, though. And having done so, they’re finding a number of alarming provisions buried in that bill. Provisions like the mandatory kill switch for automobiles flagged by Bob Barr’s alarming article.

The proposal is being marketed to legislators as a safety measure that could cut down on drunk-driving incidents. As currently written, the bill would require automobile manufacturers to include such “kill switch” capabilities in all new cars starting in five years, currently meaning 2026. This requirement claims to increase vehicle safety by “passively monitoring the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” If that clause doesn’t make your hair stand on end, you may not fully understand its implications.

In cars equipped with this capability, the system would remain on at all times, casually monitoring the performance of the driver. It would also provide entities or bureaucrats with the ability to stop vehicles. In other words, this mandatory feature would likely turn into another privacy-invading government function over time. Worse, the system as currently proposed would need to be “open,” or at least include a software backdoor. Such a backdoor could also allow unauthorized individuals or third-parties to gain access to the vehicle’s data.

Further details

According to this legislation, in 2026, vehicles sold in the US are required to automatically and silently record various metrics of driver performance. Such metrics inclue listening to you in your car, tracking your eyes and so forth. Then, the software would make a decision, absent any human oversight, as to whether the driver would be permitted to use his or her own vehicle. Even worse, the measure goes on to require that the system be “open” to remote access by “authorized” third parties at any time.

Former Georgia US Representative Bob Barr notes correctly that this provision is a privacy disaster in the making. Not only does it make every vehicle a potential tattletale, like possibly reporting minor traffic infractions — think the slightest speeding infraction or forgetting to put on your seatbelt — to authorities or insurance companies. But tracking such data also makes it possible for bad actors to retrieve it.

Also Read: The Car Coach: Four C’s you need to know before winter snow and ice

What about personal safety and privacy concerns?

More pressing than the privacy concerns, though, are the safety issues. These, of course, include the potential negative consequences of an automatic kill switch with internet access. We all know that hackers could access your vehicle and the system. This, in turn, presents the kind of scenario in which a malicious agent could disable your vehicle remotely with no warning, leading to a sudden crash and potential fatalities. Even if the remote access part of this provision doesn’t come to pass, the mere existence of such a measure remains astonishingly short-sighted.

Furthermore, the legislation provides no details concerning just who or what entity should have access to the data collected by the system. Would police need a warrant to access the recorded data? Would authorized agencies routinely make the data available to insurance companies or medical professionals? Taking things a bit further, what if monitored individuals get behind on their car payment? Can the lender download the auto’s data and then remotely disable the vehicle?

Such questions extend beyond concerns about exactly which individuals or entities could gain legal access to privileged personal data. In essence, all Americans who drive would face the ever-present fear of hackers gaining access to their data on an additional front.  Indeed, security professionals know with certainty that such data hacks can and will happen sooner or later. As Barr says, the collected data could offer a treasure trove of personal information to “all manner of entities … none of which have our best interests at heart.” How does provision help Joe Biden “Build Back Better”?

Bottom Line:

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. It assumes people enjoy a right to privacy in certain places and protects them against invasion by government agents. This “privacy amendment” also applies to places where an expectation of privacy by the general population.

Elaborating on the vagueness of this legislation, Barr does anticipate legal challenges to the measure on both 5th Amendments (right to not self-incriminate) and 6th Amendment (right to face one’s accuser) grounds as well. We certainly hope he’s right. Passing the invasive kill switch provision in the current Biden Build Back Better bill is the wrong way to go.


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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.