ACLU tells Ga. Supreme Court Fourth Amendment should apply to personal data stored by cars

Fourth Amendment protections should apply to personal data in a car’s Event Data Recorder, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will argue before the Georgia Supreme Court today.

The state’s high court is hearing oral arguments in Mobley v. State, which challenges law enforcement’s warrantless search and seizure of data gleaned from the so-called blackbox of a car operated by Victor Mobley, who was involved in a 2014 car crash that killed two people in another vehicle. Charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, Mobley argued investigators required a warrant and sought to suppress data gathered from his car’s computerized systems, showing that he was traveling 97 mph in the seconds before the crash.

“Our smartphones, computers, and cars have a lot more in common than we may realize. It’s time they share the same Fourth Amendment protections as well,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. Wessler will present the organization’s arguments before the Georgia court.

The Mobley case has wended its way through the court system, with prosecutors arguing that the search fell under the “vehicle exception” to the Fourth Amendment and a lower court tossing out Mobley’s request for suppression.

In an amicus brief, the ACLU contended that computerized systems in cars collect a treasure trove of personal data with even the EDR, meant to provide information on accidents, multidimensional record of what the car — and its driver — were doing in the moments just before, during, and after a crash. In other words, EDRs are capable of telling a precise story about a car — and its driver and its passengers — by recording and storing a brief history of the car’s operation and its various electronic and mechanical systems.”

The rights group also noted that car systems vacuum up a “plethora of tracking data.”

In recent years, two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings – Carpenter v. United States and Riley v. California have extend Fourth Amendment protections to digital data and cell phone devices. In Carpenter, the high court ruled that the government in most circumstances needs a warrant for long-term tracking of location using cell phone records.

And in Riley, noting that cell phones and the services they offer are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life” as determined in Riley v. the U.S. “that carrying one is indispensable to participation in modern society” and that cell phone logs are created “without any affirmative act on the part of the user beyond powering up,” the court said “no way to avoid leaving a digital trail of location data” so “in no meaningful sense does the user voluntarily ‘assume[] the risk’ of turning over a comprehensive dossier of his physical movements.”

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