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New federal bill seeks to prevent car spying

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Nearly every vehicle manufactured over the last decade has relied upon an onboard computer. This technology enables drivers to sync smartphones, use a navigation function and engage the self-driving function. Still, computers also monitor vehicle performance, operate turn signals and perform other essential functions. It also keeps records of these actions, thus providing a comprehensive list of driver behaviors.

Vulnerable information includes:

  • Recent destinations
  • Favorite locations
  • Contact lists
  • Call logs
  • Pictures
  • Emails
  • SMS messages
  • Social media feeds
  • Navigation history of everywhere the vehicle went
  • Other onboard and telematics data

This information could help identify known associates and identify tendencies and future plans.

No Fourth Amendment Protection Yet

Law enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection quickly realized that it does not need a warrant or the owner’s permission to access information in the vehicle that can help them build a case against the driver. They can even use data from a smartphone (and protected by law) that passes through the vehicle. With the help of automotive forensic specialists and forensic kits now manufactured, they can then use the vehicle for evidence against the owner.

The new bill

Now there is a federal bipartisan bill entitled “Closing the Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act.” “The idea the government can peruse digital car data without a warrant should sit next to the Geo Metro on the scrap heap of history,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

There are some carveouts. Officials would be able to get traffic data. Vehicles operated with commercial licenses would also not have protection under the bill. Also, there are provisions for the USA Freedom Act and the emergency measures in the Wiretap Act.

Broad support

The new bill enjoys broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. This is good news for those who want the same protections for their car as they have for phones and personal computers.