Wyden, Lummis, Khanna and Meijer Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to End Warrantless Searches of Automobile Data and Protect Americans’ Rights

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., introduced bipartisan legislation today to protect Americans against warrantless searches of the data generated and stored in their cars and trucks.

The Closing the Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act ends the outdated “vehicle exception” to the Fourth Amendment, that was created by courts long before automobiles contained computers that generate vast amounts of digital information and requires law enforcement to get a warrant to search data created by or stored in automobiles.

Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Peter Meijer, R-Mi., are introducing the bill in the House of Representatives.

“Cars and trucks create a vast amount of information, detailing when, where and how Americans live their lives,” Wyden said. “The idea the government can peruse digital car data without a warrant should sit next to the Geo Metro on the scrap heap of history.”

“As we continue to move to a more connected and digitized world, it’s essential that we take extra care to protect our constitutional rights,” Lummis said. “Today, new vehicles are computers on wheels, and my constituents in Wyoming should have the same 4th Amendment protections for their vehicles as they do for their phones and home computers. I am pleased to join Senator Wyden and Representatives Khanna and Meijer to make sure that our constituents are protected from government intrusion.”

“Technological innovations have improved the lives of countless Americans, but these changes have also resulted in new privacy concerns that must be addressed. We need to update our laws to ensure that privacy interests regarding digital data are protected,” Khanna said. “Our cars now store some of our most valuable data. This bill will close a loophole that currently allows law enforcement officers to conduct searches of data stored on our cars without a warrant. Accessing that much information should require a warrant in the same way it’s needed for our smart phones.”

“When the ‘vehicle exception’ to the Fourth Amendment was established, automobiles were still decades away from containing computers that store huge amounts of private digital information,” Meijer said. “It’s past time for us to update this exception by requiring law enforcement to have a search warrant to view data created by or stored in automobiles – just like they do for cell phones and personal computers. I’m glad to partner in this bipartisan, bicameral effort to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.”

Computers and digital data have been essential to car operations for years, and are becoming increasingly vital as autonomous vehicle technology is gradually deployed. Today’s bill recognizes those developments in technology and brings the law up to date with the digital age. The bill:

·        Requires law enforcement to get a warrant based on probable cause before they can search data from any vehicle that does not require a commercial driver’s license to drive;

·        Clarifies that any vehicle data obtained in violation of the law without a warrant is inadmissible in court, by grand juries, regulatory agencies, or to establish probable cause; and

·        Allows for broad emergency exceptions similar to the emergency provisions in the wiretap act and the USA Freedom Act, enabling the government to get a warrant after the fact, and for narrow exceptions related to traffic safety research.

The Closing the Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act is endorsed by a broad group of civil liberties, technology and industry groups, including American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and R Street Institute.

Kate Ruane, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union:  “With more than 50 computers on board, our cars are increasingly extensions of our phones. They contain private information about where we have gone, who we called, and how fast we drove to get there. Our right to privacy doesn’t disappear simply because we’ve stepped into a car. The Warrantless Digital Car Search Act would protect us by requiring law enforcement to get a warrant before searching the data on our vehicles.”

Sean Vitka, Senior Policy Counsel, Demand Progress: “Americans don’t drive cars so that the government can spy on them, but warrantless surveillance has already found its way into our passenger seats. Congress should enact Senator Wyden and Representative Khanna’s bill to protect the growing trove of information our cars store about us, from a driver’s address book and weight to the car’s location data.”

Jeremiah Mosteller, Senior Policy Analyst, Americans for Prosperity: “Our cars now represent an extension of our digital footprint and collect substantial amounts of sensitive data about our daily activities. The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the constitutional safeguards established by our Founders in recent years and it is time that Congress does the same with the computers we now drive every day. The Closing the Warrantless Digital Car Search Loophole Act strikes a proper balance between protecting the due process rights of every American and ensuring law enforcement can secure the evidence they need to keep our communities safe.”

Lee Tien, Legislative Director and Adams Chair for Internet Rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation: “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. Yet the federal government has argued it can access this sensitive driver and passenger information freely, without a warrant. We applaud Senator Wyden and Senator Lummis for their leadership in modernizing laws to protect people from today’s privacy threats.”

Jumana Masa, Director, NACDL Fourth Amendment Center: “Connected cars are gathering massive amounts of data on drivers’ precise movements and habits. Law enforcement continues to exploit laws designed for analog cars to harvest massive amounts of digital data without a warrant.  Senator Wyden and Congressman Khanna’s bill would ensure that law enforcement could not use the fact that the data is collected and stored by a vehicle to skirt warrant requirements that would apply in any other context.” 

A web version of this release is here.