The Georgia Supreme Court recently applied the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment to motor vehicle data. The court said that after a motor vehicle crash, law enforcement will need a search warrant to extract and examine data from a vehicle’s black box.

The court stated that “there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information, protected by the Fourth Amendment . . . “ and that police agencies will need “to obtain a warrant before extracting the information from an impounded vehicle.”

It was pointed out by an attorney in a recent article on the decision that the black-box data is tied to the vehicle and is mandated by the government – the box collects data whenever a vehicle’s airbag is deployed, which means that the collection is not voluntary.

All of the above essentially means that the data belongs to the vehicle’s owner. In order for a government official to obtain the information, the vehicle must be entered, a device attached and the data downloaded – which brings into play the Fourth Amendment and its protection “against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Law enforcement officers who testified in the case said crash-data recovery during investigations is routine. After a wreck, officers will obtain the data in their efforts to determine which driver caused the collision and whether or not criminal charges should be filed.

From now on, they are required to obtain a search warrant before they can download and then interpret the data.

It seems likely that the state Supreme Court’s ruling won’t present significant obstacles to law enforcement agencies investigating wrecks – especially those crashes in which significant injuries or fatalities are involved and criminal charges are under consideration.