Cars are Now Highly Computerized; the Fourth Amendment Implications
According to an article at aclu.org, questions are raised as to whether cars computers are subject to the Fourth Amendment.*
Cars don’t just transport us to their destinations anymore. They now display music from our cellphones, read out loud our text messages, and make cellphone calls. They also perform navigation. Accordingly, modern vehicles are, in essence, moving computers that store data, including music playlists, location history, and vehicle data. With this advent of technology comes questions about people’s privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Meaning, can police have warrantless access to the above referenced data during a search?
This question came up in a current Georgia Supreme Court case, Mobley v. State, where the issue presented is whether police can conduct warrantless searches of computers, even if the computer happens to be a vehicle.
The background of the Mobley case started with a tragic car crash. Following the crash, the police accessed the interior of Mr. Mobley’s vehicle and downloaded information from the car’s data recorder, also referred to as a “black box.” These black boxes report data, including speed, size and position of people in the vehicle, seat belt use and other information in the short period of time prior to an accident. Although many drivers do not know this, almost 100 percent of passenger vehicles on the retail market today contain black boxes.
When law enforcement downloaded the data from Mr. Mobley, they were able to access information regarding his speed right before the accident. They believed that this was their “smoking gun.” With this data, law enforcement was able to increase the severity of the charges against him.
The State of Georgia claimed that downloading the information in Mr. Mobley’s vehicle without obtaining a warrant was proper and subject to the “vehicle exception” under the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements. The State argued this pursuant to a number of cases that it cited, where a warrant was not required for a search of a car’s physical items.
However, the ACLU, argue that the United States Supreme Court has already clarified that warrantless searches of personal items do not extent to searches of digitized data. This warrants, per the ACLU, a greater amount of protection under the Fourth Amendment. It remains to be seen how the Georgia Supreme Court rules, the case of which presents an integral question about the protections of data in today’s computerized vehicles.
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