BYU Law Review


Can police search a smart car’s computer without a warrant? Although the Supreme Court banned warrantless searches of cell phones incident to arrest in Riley v. California, the Court left the door open for warrantless searches under other exceptions to the warrant requirement. This is the first article to argue that the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception currently permits the police to warrantlessly dig into a vehicle’s computer system and extract vast amounts of cell phone data. Just as the police can rip open seats or slash tires to search for drugs under the automobile exception, the police can warrantlessly extract data stored in a vehicle’s infotainment system.

This Article’s contribution is important and timely. Police in multiple states have already extracted basic digital data from cars without a warrant. As Tesla and other smart cars become ubiquitous, police departments will be tempted to use more sophisticated data extraction tools to examine private cell phone data without first obtaining a warrant. Because the Supreme Court moves extremely slowly in addressing the legality of high-tech searches, this article argues that Congress and state legislatures should amend outdated privacy statutes to require police to obtain search warrants before extracting private cell phone data from a vehicle’s computer system.


© 2023 Brigham Young University Law Review