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DIGITAL VEHICLE FORENSICS USED TO HELP SOLVE CRIMES

You may not know that your vehicle records and stores a large assortment of time stamped data that can range from the opening and closing of the vehicle’s doors, the speed at which the vehicle was driving at any given date and time, voice commands stored in the onboard bluetooth or hands-free systems, and a lot more. Unless you are driving a clunker, chances are good your vehicle has this “black box” embedded inside.  Manufacturers started installing these vehicle blackboxes in the mid-1990 and the technology is now quite advanced.  If you have ever been in a newer model Tesla, you have seen the future of this technology. Everything that controls the Tesla is done through your smart phone, from opening doors, to starting up the car and the control panel that drives and navigates the car.  This technology has become so sophisticated that the police are able to solve crimes using the digital evidence stored in by our cars.

The technology has helped the police solve many crimes, including murder. For example, in Michigan, the police were able to solve a two-year old murder after the victim’s stolen vehicle was found. Time-stamped recordings of voice commands around the time the victim went missing were recovered from the 2016 Chevy truck. That led police to identify the voice, which was not the victim’s, and eventually led to the arrest of the murderer.

In another case here in California, a man was driving his Tesla when he ran straight into a car that was pulling out of a driveway. The driver who pulled out of the driveway died from the impact. The Tesla driver told the police he was driving 55 mph; the speed limit was 45 mph. While the other car may have been violating the vehicle code by pulling out under unsafe conditions, the Tesla driver was still on the hook because he was speeding. He was facing a possible misdemeanor manslaughter charge. But then the police got a search warrant to pull the data from the Tesla. They were able to establish that the Tesla driver wasn’t going 55 mph, but 78 mph!  Now the Tesla driver is facing a felony manslaughter charge, a very serious charge.

In both cases, the police employed what is known a digital vehicle forensics. Just as the name implies, this investigation tool involves the analysis of the data stored in a vehicle’s blackbox. But there are potential pitfalls to the police investigation and someone who is “exposed” by his or her car may have a compelling defense as the search and seizure law may have been violated by the police in their investigation.

As vehicle blackboxes become more sophisticated, the blackboxes store the most trivial of data—data that can be a treasure trove for police. As one example, you will probably be surprised to learn that late model cars are recording the weight of people sitting in the seats at any given time.  You may not be surprised to learn that your car is recording your destinations, your Bluetooth phone calls (yes, the entire conversation and texts), your navigation and so on. Many cars are also now being equipped with embedded cameras and sensors.

While this technology might be an exceptional tool for the police, privacy advocates are concerned. There is generally no way to encrypt this information or lock it with a passcode. All police need is a warrant to search a vehicle’s blackbox and they can obtain data that exceeds that which may be obtained otherwise. Another privacy concern is federal laws that regulate how this data might be used by the vehicle manufacturers is weak. So are safeguards that protect this information from hackers.

Your vehicle may be spying on you, but it is also helping the police solve crimes. Just be aware that if you break the law, your car might be the “one” to turn you in.

If your car has snitched on you, it is possible that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg will review your case to determine whether you may have a Constitutional challenge to the evidence, which may be thrown out if a motion to suppress is granted. Whether your issue is a gossiping vehicle or any other criminal matter, Attorney Weinberg will review your matter free of charge and advise you as to your defense options. You may contacthim by email at bill@williamweinberg.com or phone his Irvine office at 949-474-8008.