Florida Court Extends Privacy Rights to Vehicle Black Box

In a case of first impression, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal held that police need a warrant to search a vehicle’s black box or event data recorder (EDR). EDRs, which are now present in almost every vehicle on the road, are devices that record technical crash data for a brief period of time before, during and after a crash. After a fatal car crash, police downloaded the data from the impounded car’s EDR without a warrant. The driver of car was later charged with DUI manslaughter and moved to suppress the data downloaded from the EDR. The trial court held that the warrantless search of the EDR violated the Fourth Amendment and granted the driver’s motion to suppress. The state appealed arguing the Fourth Amendment did not apply, because there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in the data from the EDR.

Affirming the trial court, the appellate court held there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data obtained from the EDR. Therefore, a warrant is required to download the data from the EDR absent exigent circumstances. Interestingly, the Court relied on prior decisions recognizing a reasonable expectation of privacy in cell phones, though the Court acknowledged that cell phones contain much more private and personal information than an EDR. The Court equated the difficulty in extracting information from EDRs with cell phones, which enhances the expectation of privacy.   With the ever-expanding use of technology in vehicles, this decision will have a far-reaching impact. The State of Florida will likely appeal the ruling of the appellate court to the Florida Supreme Court, so stay tuned for further developments. The case is Florida v. Worsham, No. 4D15-2733 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2017).

Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell