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Florida court enhances individual privacy rights

Today’s ubiquitous electronic devices and the advance of information technology threaten to make privacy an obsolete concept. But a Florida court last week imposed some much-needed limits on how the government may use and obtain an individual’s personal data, nudging the Fourth Amendment toward the digital age.

The case involved a man who was behind the wheel during a high-speed crash that killed his front-seat passenger. The man faced DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide charges, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

During their investigation, the police downloaded information from the vehicle’s “black box.” Most new cars have these devices, which track a wide-range of information about performance, including speed and braking, in an effort to determine the cause of accidents.

Attorneys for the Florida man sought to keep the data from the black box out of court, arguing that law enforcement didn’t secure a warrant before accessing the information. The appeals court agreed, ruling 2-1 that, “The difficulty in extracting such information buttresses an expectation of privacy.”

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures. It makes sense that — just as the police must first secure court permission before seeking to rummage through an individual’s personal papers and belongings — the authorities would need a warrant to access cell phone data or the details encoded in an automobile’s black box.

A lawyer for the defendant told the Journal that the ruling was a “groundbreaking recognition of a car owner’s privacy rights.” Let’s hope other courts take notice.

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