Modern vehicles are part automobile, part supercomputer, and
car technologycontinues to advance at breakneck speed.
Consequently, our cars contain a huge amount of digital information, which when analyzed, can tell someone a lot about us.
Telematics, which uses GPS to track our driving, has been used for usage-based insurance for years, and infotainment systems can sync to our smartphones.
With the loosening of privacy standards, police across the nation are turning to car’s telematics and infotainment systems to help them solve crimes.
The emergence of digital vehicle forensics
Police have been using technology to aid them in solving crimes for as long as the tech has been available. For example, GPS tracking has been used to locate stolen cars, and cell phone records used to prove texting and driving following a crash.
But digital vehicle forensics takes this to a whole new level. As explained by
NBC, in recent years, investigators have realized that newer cars are treasure troves of digital evidence.
Investigations often start by looking at the telematics system, which reveals time and date-stamped location and speed information, in addition to finer details, like the precise time car doors were opened.
Cops can also requisition the car’s infotainment system. If synced to the suspect's phone, these systems will reveal call logs, text messages, email contents, photos, videos, and even search engine history.
When combined, the knowledge gleaned from telematics and infotainment systems can paint a very precise picture of driver and passenger behaviour. In many police investigations, this information is incriminating, or can be used to destroy suspects’ alibis.
Detectives have more access than ever before
Five years ago, very few detectives were using the information stored in vehicles to bust criminals, but with a relaxing of privacy standards, law enforcement officials can get almost uninhibited access to a suspect’s car.
NBC cites the case of Chris Prevette, a detective sergeant with the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit. He was the first person in the agency to use digital vehicle forensics, but today, he says, "four offices across the state do it routinely for smaller, everyday felonies...sometimes two to three times a week."
Another reason for the increasing popularity is the main toolkit used by digital forensic examiners, created by Berla Corporation, has expanded its offerings. Berla has increased the number of car models it can access from 80 in 2013, to more than 14,000 in 2021.
While many people will laud the additional resources available to fight crime, privacy activists are calling for additional safeguards to be put in place.
Lam Nguyen, director of the Defense Cyber Crime Center, tells NBC "I'm sure everyone is aware of how much forensic data is on the phone...What people don't realize is a lot of that is being transmitted to a car just because you register the phone with the car."
This might not be an issue for some drivers, but experts warn that the data security on cars is poor. A password is rarely needed to unlock a vehicle’s infotainment system, meaning cops don’t have to try very hard to access your information.
Nguyen continues, "If you've committed some heinous crime and we can't get into your phone, we can get peripheral data that has been synced to your car...The contact list, calls made, text messages. In almost any criminal investigation, communication with the victim or co-conspirators is hugely important."
The vast majority of police investigators can be trusted to use this information sparingly, and only to advance a case against a suspected criminal, but the same cannot be said for everyone.
There have been examples of criminals breaking into cars, either by hacking or the old-fashioned way, and using the stored data to commit identity theft and blackmail.
Telematics can help you save on car insurance
If you don’t mind your driving habits being tracked, telematics (also known as usage-based insurance) can be a great way to save on car insurance.
Insurance companies keep the data anonymous and will often reward you with a discount of up to 15%. Another great way to save on car insurance is to
compare multiple quotesat the same time.
If you’d rather leave the hard work of gathering quotes to someone else, use
Jerry. This free app can collect quotes from up to 50 top insurance companies in seconds!
After providing you with a comprehensive cross-analysis of the best policies across providers, Jerry will handle the phone calls, paperwork, and renewals for your top pick so that you don’t have to. So why do all that extra work when Jerry can do it for you?