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Georgia's Supreme Court issues a landmark decision on vehicle data privacy

The court ruled that police must have a warrant before collecting any data from a private vehicle.

Your modern vehicle is recording data about your driving habits all the time and that data had very little privacy protection from law enforcement -- until now.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Back in 2014, a man named Victor Mobley was driving his 2014 Dodge Charger along a tree-lined road in Henry County, Georgia. Two people in a 1999 Chevrolet Corvette pulled out from a driveway and were hit by Mobley. They died, and Mobley survived.

Initially, the police determined that the Corvette driver must have pulled out without warning, and Mobley couldn't stop in time. They saw nothing at the scene that would indicate that Mobley was driving too quickly until an officer plugged a device called a Crash Data Recorder into Mobley's Charger and found that he had been doing nearly 100 miles per hour.

Here's where things get sticky: that officer didn't have a search warrant. The police got a warrant soon after, the issuance of which wasn't dependent on the data obtained from Victor Mobley's car, but after being convicted of a double first-degree vehicular homicide, Mobley appealed saying that the data from his vehicle was obtained illegally, in violation of the 4th Amendment. 

That appeal was struck down by the Court of Appeals, citing that Mobley had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his vehicle, but the Georgia State Supreme Court issued a ruling on Monday overturning the Court of Appeals' decision. That ruling will set a significant precedent going forward in Georgia and likely in the rest of the country.

The precedent becomes increasingly important as cars are now collecting more data than ever about driving habits and location information. That trend is likely to continue, and in all probability, increase, making privacy a more significant concern than ever. 

Specifically, the Court of Appeals' original decision would have made it legal for police officers to take whatever data they wanted from your vehicle without any kind of warrant, creating an even greater potential than ever before for the abuse of power.

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