One of the first things most people do after they purchase a new vehicle is link their smartphone with the vehicle’s infotainment system. This allows the user to make and receive hands-free calls on the go, listen to their own music or playlists and project their Google or Apple maps navigation on the infotainment screen, among more. But while pairing a smartphone with a vehicle can be convenient, it can also leave personal information prone to harvesting by law enforcement.
According to a new report from The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently purchased five Berla iVe “vehicle forensics kits” from a Swedish data extraction firm called MSAB. A CBP document viewed by The Intercept indicates the technology will be important to the organization’s investigations “as it can provide evidence regarding the vehicle’s use, but also information obtained through mobile devices paired with the infotainment system.” Put simply, this technology allows law enforcement to not only extract and review data related to the vehicle’s GPS location and usage, but also data from any smartphones that have been paired with that vehicle’s infotainment system.
“Vehicle systems store a vast amount of data such as recent destinations, favorite locations, call logs, contact lists, SMS messages, emails, pictures, videos, social media feeds, and the navigation history of everywhere the vehicle has been,” MSAB says of the iVe forensics kits. “Many systems record events such as when and where a vehicle’s lights are turned on, and which doors are opened and closed at specific locations. Analysis of vehicle data will answer key questions for investigators and change the course of an investigation.”
According to MSAB’s website, the iVe technology is compatible with Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles. It also compatible with virtually every other major vehicle makes on sale in the United States, including Ford/Lincoln and all Stellantis/FCA brands.
Many will find the capability of this technology unsurprising in today’s data-driven world, but it may give law enforcement a legal workaround when it comes to the public’s personal information and phone data. The Supreme Court has ruled that phone data is tied to a person’s Fourth Amendment right, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but the issue of vehicle infotainment system data has not yet been ruled on by the high court. That means infotainment system data, which can range from SMS texts to vehicle speed logs, could be fair game for agencies like the CBP for the time being. Many vehicle owners are unaware that their vehicle is downloading so much of their personal information, as well, potentially leaving the public more prone to harvesting attempts like this.