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Do Police Need a Warrant to Access Your Car's GPS Data?

The concept of smart cars has everybody asking the question: just how smart are they? What kind of information are they tracking and how are they using it? More importantly, do the police have the right to see this data? What about GPS data, complete with information on your recent trips and travels? What about the data from your stereo, which identifies your favorite artists and songs?

A recent lawsuit in the state of Georgia has the general public asking questions like this – and there doesn't seem to be a clear answer.

It all stems from a fatal car crash that occurred in 2014. According to the facts of the case, the suspect was driving at a speed of 97 miles per hour in a zone that is clearly marked with a 45-mph speed limit. While he was ultimately found guilty, he appealed the conviction on the grounds that police offers failed to obtain a search warrant for his car's black box.

But the police contend that they didn't one. Although the suspect claims he "had a subjective expectation of privacy in the data," Georgia officials contend that it wasn't necessary because they ''"had the resources available at the time … to go ahead and just gather all the data that we could while we're on-scene."''

In fact, Georgia's prosecutors claim that the retrieval of this black box data is common practice in accidents involving death or serious injury – just like they've been used in commercial and private airplanes.

However, the black boxes inside the smart cars of today do not just contain data relating to the crash. Instead, they capture all of the data that's being funneled through your system. In certain cases, this includes GPS data, phone call records, and music playlists. According to some, this is all information that is covered and protected from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that this data remains on your vehicle's black box in an unencrypted state. While a group of 20 automobile manufacturers have recently agreed to increase data management controls in future vehicles, owners have very little management functionality over their current data.

Since it is available in an unsecure, unencrypted format, law enforcement officers currently have the right to access that information without a warrant. Depending on the outcome of this case, however, all of that could change in the near future.

As you can see, the case is anything but straightforward. As the battle for digital data privacy heats up, both in the courtroom and all around the IT world, we're bound to see even more cases like this. At the moment, however, all eyes are on the Georgia Supreme Court and their fight against the American Civil Liberties Union.

For more information on the American Civil Liberties Union, including details on this case or any of their other causes, please visit their official website at {{|}}. Interested parties can also make a donation to their organization or get in contact with a representative from the ACLU.


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