It is an increasingly inescapable reality that each of us is tracked throughout our daily lives. Between security cameras, traffic cameras, cellphone GPS and credit/debit card purchase records, someone could conceivably piece together an entire account of where you go and what you do each day. If charged with a crime, law enforcement agencies may attempt to use this information – sometimes without the need for a warrant – to prove your guilt.
Unfortunately, you might be unwittingly providing surveillance data from something you rely on every day: your car. Many major auto insurance companies promote discounted rates to drivers who agree to install devices that monitor how they drive (based on data from the computers in their vehicles). The information collected is referred to as telematics data. Like many new forms of technology, it has advanced far faster than laws meant to regulate its use.
What your car knows about you
Some of the telematics data collected is directly related to how you drive. These devices can monitor your speed and acceleration, how hard you brake or make turns and how many miles you drive. But telematics systems are also collecting information about:
- Where you go and when you go there
- How long you stay at a specific location
- Confirming that you were the driver (using voice-recognition technology)
In the field of criminal law, telematics data has been used to secure convictions for murder, burglary/robbery, hit-and-run accidents and more. It could likely be used to bolster evidence in a drug case by, for instance, showing that a defendant very briefly stopped their vehicle in a known drug-crime area that was not near their home or work.
Is a warrant needed?
Most of the time, law enforcement agencies need a warrant to collect your personal data from private companies (such as cellphone records collected by your wireless provider). But if companies choose to freely sell that data to anyone who wants to buy it, police may not need a warrant.
Recent high-profile court cases have attempted to answer the question of whether law enforcement agencies can use smartphone tracking data purchased from companies that make individual apps. If law enforcement agencies don’t buy from app makers themselves, they may be able to buy from third-party companies that purchase, analyze and package data provided by private companies.
Why telematics data is different from other tracking methods
Your cellphone can essentially track you whenever it is turned on an in your pocket. But cellphones can be turned off or left at home. Telematics data is always being collected by your vehicle because it is critical for safety and vehicle maintenance. You can’t turn it off.
What you can do if you’ve been charged
If you’ve been charged with a crime, it is critical to determine what evidence the government has and how that evidence was collected. This is the first thing a good defense attorney will examine. If the evidence was collected without a warrant or in any way that may have violated your rights, you and your attorney can file a motion to suppress that evidence.