Helen Whalen Cohen
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Hold on to your car keys (and passports). A transportation bill which contains some bizarre requirements is making its way through Congress and is expected to become law. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21 has already passed in the Senate and is expected to pass in the House. After that, it will receive President Obama's signature.

Hidden in the legislative jargon are two strange requirements, which one hopes would raise concern in the conservative House. First, the MAP-21 Act gives the IRS the authority to seize the passport of anyone they believe to be $50,000 behind on their taxes. According to the text of the bill, if the IRS Secretary is informed by the Commissioner that an individual owes $50,000 or more, the Secretary is authorized to have the head of the State Department revoke the individual's passport. In other words, get audited and have your passport revoked now, fight for your due process later. The exact text of the bill reads:

 

‘SEC. 7345. REVOCATION OR DENIAL OF PASSPORT IN CASE OF CERTAIN TAX DELINQUENCIES.

‘(a) In General- If the Secretary receives certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue that any individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State for action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport pursuant to section 4 of the Act entitled ‘An Act to regulate the issue and validity of passports, and for other purposes’, approved July 3, 1926 (22 U.S.C. 211a et seq.), commonly known as the ‘Passport Act of 1926’.

 

‘(b) Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt- For purposes of this section, the term ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ means an outstanding debt under this title for which a notice of lien has been filed in public records pursuant to section 6323 or a notice of levy has been filed pursuant to section 6331, except that such term does not include--

‘(1) a debt that is being paid in a timely manner pursuant to an agreement under section 6159 or 7122, and

‘(2) a debt with respect to which collection is suspended because a collection due process hearing under section 6330, or relief under subsection (b), (c), or (f) of section 6015, is requested or pending.

‘(c) Adjustment for Inflation- In the case of a calendar year beginning after 2012, the dollar amount in subsection (a) shall be increased by an amount equal to--

‘(1) such dollar amount, multiplied by

‘(2) the cost-of-living adjustment determined under section 1(f)(3) for the calendar year, determined by substituting ‘calendar year 2011’ for ‘calendar year 1992’ in subparagraph (B) thereof.

If any amount as adjusted under the preceding sentence is not a multiple of $1,000, such amount shall be rounded to the next highest multiple of $1,000.’.

Now we are learning that this same bill will also require car manufacturers to put black boxes (like the kind in airplanes) in all cars starting in 2015.

 

SEC. 31406. VEHICLE EVENT DATA RECORDERS.

(a) Mandatory Event Data Recorders-

(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.

(2) PENALTY- The violation of any provision under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations--

(A) shall be deemed to be a violation of section 30112 of title 49, United States Code;

(B) shall be subject to civil penalties under section 30165(a) of that title; and

(C) shall not subject a manufacturer (as defined in section 30102(a)(5) of that title) to the requirements under section 30120 of that title.

 

(b) Limitations on Information Retrieval-

(1) OWNERSHIP OF DATA- Any data in an event data recorder required under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, regardless of when the passenger motor vehicle in which it is installed was manufactured, is the property of the owner, or in the case of a leased vehicle, the lessee of the passenger motor vehicle in which the data recorder is installed.

(2) PRIVACY- Data recorded or transmitted by such a data recorder may not be retrieved by a person other than the owner or lessee of the motor vehicle in which the recorder is installed unless--

(A) a court authorizes retrieval of the information in furtherance of a legal proceeding;

(B) the owner or lessee consents to the retrieval of the information for any purpose, including the purpose of diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;

(C) the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code, and the personally identifiable information of the owner, lessee, or driver of the vehicle and the vehicle identification number is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved information; or

(D) the information is retrieved for the purpose of determining the need for, or facilitating, emergency medical response in response to a motor vehicle crash.

According to the text of the bill, your stored data will be protected, unless a federal agent decides otherwise. What use could this possibly have? The number of auto accidents in this country is tragically high, but has also declined since 2005. What's more, traffic accidents could be left to the states, where elected officials are closest to, and therefore most familiar with local problems.

Overall, the MAP-21 Act feels mostly innocuous. These provisions are unsettling, though. Let's hope that they are struck before they can pave the way for any more bad ideas.

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Helen Whalen Cohen

Helen Whalen Cohen is Associate Editor and Community Manager at Townhall.com.