Time To Close the Car Snitch Loophole

You give the police permission to search your data and listen to music in your car without you having to get a warrant. This includes your GPS data as well as all other information that your phone has to share with the car’s computer.

According to the Supreme Court, police need to have a warrant in order to search a cell phone’s information, track cars by attaching GPS devices to them, or obtain location data from mobile service providers. Fourth Amendment law is not up to date with modern car technology. Police can extract information from cars without owners knowledge.

The Intercept reported in 2021 that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had purchased “vehicle forensics” kits that can retrieve travel data, text messages, and photos from synced devices. Because car computers appear to be covered by the Fourth Amendment’s warrant-requirement, this workaround may be legal.

This exception was created by the Court in 1925 to help enforce alcohol prohibition. Police can search cars without warrants if they believe that they may find evidence or contraband. The Senate and House have supported the bill bipartisanly. This would stop police from using this exception to search a vehicle’s computer.

If the car is to be operated, it would need a warrant under The Closing Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act. A warrant is required to search any vehicle that contains data. This information cannot be used for probable cause and/or evidence in court, grand jury, regulatory agency proceedings.

“The idea [that] the government can peruse digital car data without a warrant should sit next to the Geo Metro on the scrap heap of history,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.), who introduced the Senate version of the bill along with Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R–Wyo.). The House sponsors are Reps. Peter Meijer (R–Mich.) and Ro Khanna (D–Calif.).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACU) support the legislation. “Modern vehicles can reveal as much about us as our phones—not only where we go, but who we call, and even what we weigh,” said EFF Legislative Director Lee Tien. The federal government is claiming it has the right to access sensitive passenger and driver information without warrants.

Congress needs to close this loophole, and ensure that the Constitution protects against warrantless searches in the 21st century.