Police Really Could Use Data From Your Car's GPS To Convict You Of A Crime

Earlier this week, Ford’s vice president of marketing and sales walked back his statements that the company knows about “everyone who breaks the law” in a Ford vehicle, but it’s still possible that cops could use your GPS data to track you.

The cops don’t necessarily need a warrant to go to car companies and ask for your GPS data, William McGeveran, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, told Business Insider.

“Just the same way that law enforcement can go to your bank or dry cleaner and ask questions about your activities there, they could go to Ford,” McGeveran said. “Under the third party doctrine, it suggests that when your activities give information to a company, you’re waiving your reasonable expectation of privacy, so it’s not required that there be a warrant.”

Back in 2008, the Associated Press noted several cases in which police used GPS as evidence to show that a person committed a crime. In one case, GPS data showed a trucker accused of setting his home on fire had his rig parked 100 yards from the house at the time of the blaze. In another case, prosecutors used GPS data to show how a rapist prowled the town for a victim.

GPS data has also been used to help police catch traffic violators. In 2011, popular GPS company TomTom admitted that it provided data to law enforcement that was then used to determine where people speed the most. Cops set up cameras in those areas to catch speeders.

The GPS devices used in those cases are different from the on-board systems that come with many new vehicles on the market today, but the privacy concerns still hold.

While Ford’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales Jim Farley said that Ford isn’t tracking customers in their cars without their consent, a recently released report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that major auto companies are indeed collecting data from the on-board GPS devices in cars.

Ford was included in the study, but the report doesn’t talk about the specific practices of each individual car company. It does note, however, that the companies should provide more information about how they’re using the data and if they’re giving it to third parties.

Every company the report looked at admitted that they do collect location data from vehicles to provide information like turn-by-turn directions. The report found that every company took steps to safeguard the data, but the GAO found there are still risks the data could be used in ways the consumer never intended.

“There is not any special legal protection for location data,” McGeveran said. “There is a bill in Congress that would create some privacy protection for location data as a category, but in the absence of that bill, you don’t have protection.”

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