Biparty bill seeks to end warrantless police spying on cars


Legislation introduced in the House and Senate today will force cops to obtain a warrant before extracting information stored in computers in modern cars, closing what the bill’s sponsors say is a glaring and outdated loophole in the fourth amendment.

Recent car models rely heavily on computers for everything from navigation to engine diagnostics to entertainment, and entice drivers to plug in their smartphones for additional functionality and convenience. These systems record the movements of drivers while downloading extremely sensitive personal information from their smartphones via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, usually silently, without their knowledge or consent.

Converting cars into unprotected four-wheeled databases, with a wealth of information about the owners’ travels and associates, has presented fruits at hand for law enforcement, who are able to lawfully remove data from a vehicle without the owner’s knowledge. They are aided by a small but lucrative industry of tech companies that perform ‘forensic vehicles’, extracting not only travel data, but often text messages, photos and other private data from devices. synchronized. Critics say it exploits a dangerous loophole in the law: if police want to search the contents of your smartphone, the Fourth Amendment requires them to first obtain a warrant; if they want to search for the computer built into your car, they don’t need such permission, even if they end up siphoning data from the exact same smartphone.

The new legislation, entitled “Closing the Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act”, would prohibit such warrantless searches; their evidence would be inadmissible in court, to establish probable cause or to be used by regulators. The measure was introduced in the Senate by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Wyoming Republican Cynthia Lummis, and in the House by Representative Peter Meijer, the Republican representing West Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, and Rep. Ro Khanna, the Democrat of the San Francisco Bay Area. Zone 17th.

“The idea that the government can browse digital data on warrantless cars should be next to the Geo Metro on the junkyard of history,” Wyden said in a pre-announcement shared with The Intercept.

In May, The Intercept reported that US Customs and Border Protection had contracted with MSAB, a Swedish company specializing in hacking digital devices, to purchase vehicle forensics kits made by Berla, an American company. MSAB’s marketing materials clearly show just how powerful these kits are, touting the ability to shoot “[r]recent destinations, favorite locations, call logs, contact lists, SMS messages, emails, photos, videos, social media feeds and browsing history from wherever the vehicle has been ”, as well as data that can be used to determine the ‘target’ future plan ‘and'[i]identify known associates and establish patterns of communication between them.

CBP’s use of such tools is among the warrantless uses of car data that would be blocked by the new bill, Wyden spokesman Keith Chu confirmed.

“The new vehicles are computers on wheels and should have the same 4th Amendment protections.”

The bill protects a wide range of data collected by cars today, including “all in-vehicle and telematics data” in the vehicle or in attached “storage and communication systems”, including ” diagnostic data, entertainment system data, navigation data, images or data captured by on-board sensors or cameras, including images or data used to support automated features or autonomous driving, Internet access and communication to and from vehicle occupants.

There are exclusions; the bill exempts vehicles requiring a business license to drive as well as road safety research and situations subject to the “emergency provisions of the Wiretapping Act and the United States Freedom Act, allowing the government get a warrant after the fact, ”according to a snapshot shared by Wyden’s office.

The bill has been endorsed by a range of left-wing groups, including due process advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But Republican support points out that issues of digital privacy and surveillance resonate across party lines. “The new vehicles are computers on wheels, and my constituents in Wyoming should have the same 4th Amendment protections for their vehicles as they do for their phones and personal computers,” Lummis said in the announcement.


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