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Georgia Supreme Court To Decide On Black Box Privacy
High court in Georgia to decide whether vehicle black box data is subject to Fourth Amendment protections.

Victor Lamont MobleyThe Georgia Supreme Court later this month will hear a case which will direct how state law treats privacy issues in the modern age. At issue is whether police should be required to obtain a warrant before downloading black box data from an automobile. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last month weighed in on behalf of Victor Lamont Mobley, who says law enforcement went too far when they downloaded speed data from his Dodge Charger on December 15, 2014, without consulting a judge first.

"The massive amount of digital data contained in car computers implicates substantial privacy interests," ACLU attorney Sean J. Young explained. "Though many may not realize it, these computers can and will contain unique digital records that track nearly every aspect of one's driving, including a car's specific movements, GPS location, steering input, speed, engine throttle and other detailed measurements down to the millisecond. Increasingly, such computers can even record the size and number of passengers, the music they are listening to, texts being exchanged, and private conversations."

Mobley had been involved in a fatal car crash, and when officers from the Henry County Police Department grabbed data from his car without a warrant, they saw a speed reading of 97 MPH seconds before he struck a Chevrolet Corvette, killing its driver and passenger. Mobley wants that information suppressed as a Fourth Amendment violation. He argues that the information stored in a car is the modern equivalent of someone's "papers" which cannot be seized without judicial authorization. The Georgia Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that motorists have no privacy interest in their black box data. The ACLU does not want that precedent to stand.

"Had police learned defendant's speed and other general facts by canvassing witnesses or analyzing skid mark data, he indeed would have lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information revealed through those investigative techniques," Young wrote. "But that is not what took place... The search here was of defendant's own property -- his car's onboard computer system and the data stored on it -- in which he had both a property interest and a reasonable expectation of privacy."

The high court will begin reviewing the matter on June 19 when it hears oral arguments in the case. Mobley is currently serving a seven-year sentence for vehicular homicide at the Wheeler Correctional Facility.