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Police may search your car’s computer

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

Recent vehicle models contain computers that assist motorists with navigation, engine diagnostics, entertainment and using their smartphones. This technology also records drivers’ movements, and silently downloads sensitive personal information from their smartphones through Blue or Wi-Fi. Legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House requiring the issuance of a warrant before police can access these devices.

Lack of owner’s knowledge

Law enforcement may obtain data off a vehicle’s computer without their owner’s knowledge concerning their travel, associates and other confidential information.

A small but profitable technology industry assists law enforcement and engages in vehicle forensics. This technology extracts travel data, text messages, photographs, and other confidential data from sync devices.

In May, for example, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection contracted with MSAB to purchase vehicle forensic kits manufactured by Berla. MSAB advertised that these kits can extract recent destinations, frequent locations, lists of contacts, SMS messages, emails, photographs, videos, social media feeds and the vehicle’s entire navigation history.

The Fourth Amendment, however, requires police to obtain a warrant before searching your smartphone. Searching a car computer is a legal loophole that can affect your criminal defense. This exclusion may apply even if police gather data that came from a smartphone.


The proposed Closing the Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act would prohibit these warrantless searches and the use of the technology provided by these private companies. Evidence of a warrantless search of a car computer would be inadmissible in a trial, could not establish probable cause and could not be used by regulatory agencies.

The legislation would protect all onboard and telematics data in vehicles and storage and communications systems including diagnostic, entertainment system, and navigation system data. Protections will also cover data from onboard sensors or cameras and images or data that supports automated features or autonomous driving, access to the internet and communications to and from vehicle occupants.

The bill would exempt vehicles requiring a commercial license for driving.  Traffic safety research and situations covered by the wiretap act and USA Freedom Act’s emergency provisions will allow the government to seek a warrant after the fact.

The criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating. Kammen & Moudy can offer you the experienced support you need to protect your rights against illegally seized evidence.


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