Auto trade group highlights privacy and tech challenges in ‘worrying trend’ of carjackings

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WASHINGTON — In testimony before a Senate panel on Tuesday, the Automotive Innovation Alliance underscored automakers’ commitment to working with law enforcement and policymakers on the growing prevalence of carjackings. , while emphasizing the importance of protecting the privacy of their customers.

“Clearly, sharing location information — with anyone, including law enforcement — needs to be properly balanced with consumer privacy,” Alliance CEO John Bozzella told members. of the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on federal support for the prevention and response to carjackings.

The hearing follows efforts in January by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to urge the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with automakers and law enforcement to deal with what he called an “alarming increase” in carjackings across the United States.

In separate letters sent Jan. 26 to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Bozzella, Durbin urged the department and automakers to develop standardized methods for law enforcement that can be used to locate stolen vehicles.

Many newer vehicles have telematics systems that can track a vehicle’s location, but Durbin, who is chairman of the committee, says the process of contacting automakers to access location tracking data “often results in unnecessary delays that impact law enforcement capacity. effectively combat these crimes. »

Durbin says procedures for agencies to access vehicle tracking information from automakers also vary widely from industry to industry and can take law enforcement hours or even weeks to complete.

Durbin is calling on the auto industry to “do more,” including developing uniform industry procedures to make it easier for law enforcement to contact automakers and access stolen vehicle location data.

Last month, Durbin also urged the Justice Department and the FBI to improve nationwide data collection on carjacking offenses.

“This is an important and serious topic, and Congress has an important role to play in addressing the rise in violent crime, and carjacking is just one of them,” said the Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in his opening remarks.

Thomas Dart, sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, said carjackings in Chicago had tripled in the past decade – a worrying trend that has spread to other major cities such as New York and Philadelphia as well. than in the District of Columbia.

“One of the most effective tools available is manufacturer-installed geolocation equipment, commonly available in most vehicles built after 2015,” Dart told the committee. “But while some manufacturers are very helpful, others may be reluctant or unwilling to track hijacked vehicles.”

Dart said it’s often unclear who law enforcement should call for vehicle information, and some automakers have limited hours of availability.

“Sometimes staff are poorly trained and demand that we get warrants that are obviously not relevant,” he explained. “In the most serious cases, companies require customers to pay extra to start tracking the car that was just stolen from them.”

Bozzella pointed to industry privacy principles, which prohibit an automaker from sharing vehicle location data with an unaffiliated third party, including law enforcement, without the vehicle owner’s consent.

Bozzella also highlighted challenges such as the variation in telematics capabilities between automakers and within vehicle lines and contractual limitations in their agreements with customers on when location data can be provided to third parties, including including law enforcement.

He also stressed the importance of verifying that a request for vehicle location data from law enforcement is a legitimate request related to an active carjacking and to define the necessary circumstances related to a carjacking. car that allow law enforcement to access real-time vehicle information.

“Is this a case where a vehicle is forcibly stolen? Bozzella asked. “Does this only apply in a circumstance where the theft puts the owner or a passenger in imminent danger?”

Bozzella called the increase in carjackings over the past two years a “worrying trend” and said its members – which include most of the major automakers in the United States – have come together to examine the issue and improve their cooperation with law enforcement.

“It’s a complex issue, and we take it seriously,” he said.

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